PARASITE Is a Perfect, Cinematic Distillation of Class Anxiety
The South Korean masterpiece from Bong Joon Ho offers a warning of how degrading the pursuit of affluence is.
Well, PARASITE did it. It won Best Picture. Against all odds, and breaking almost a century of precedent, this fascination, bold, and original film from master director Bong Joon Ho became the first foreign language film ever to win Best Picture. Yet, the more I think about it, the more this win makes sense — not just for cinephiles and film lovers, but also given the greater conversation of class that has permeated our society throughout the 2010s.
In fact, PARASITE perhaps is benefitted by the fact that this isn’t Bong Joon Ho’s first foray into the subject. His previous films, namely SNOWPIERCER, OKJA, and THE HOST, have all explored the topic of class and class struggle in one form or another. Moreover, he has used specific imagery to help distill his central — in THE HOST it’s the giant monster; in SNOWPIERCER it’s the increasingly lavish parts of the train; in OKJA it’s big business. But perhaps what makes PARASITE Bong Joon Ho’s best film, and the best distillation of his class-centric message, is how distinctly human it feels. There are no big monsters, no fantastical elements, no lavish action sequences. At its core, there are two families and two visions of the world which clash in shocking ways.
It also helps that PARASITE came out in 2019. For the past decade, the world has been struggling with this discussion of class, particularly in South Korea and the United States where there continue to be growing disparities between the poor and the rich. This is also part of the reason (besides just being a damn good film) that PARASITE has gained traction in the United States where some of his other films may have not. After all, a deeply unpopular billionaire currently sits in the White House while people starve, lack healthcare, and struggle to make ends meet. This is not something new — the US has been struggling with these issues for decades — but the past four years have helped crystallize these disparities in such a way that they are impossible to ignore.
But PARASITE taps into something deeper than just modern politics. As I said before, at its core it’s a deeply human story and a warning. I said in my first review of the film that PARASITE illustrates how the pursuit of wealth, and the fantasy of affluence, can often be more dehumanizing than poverty itself, and I still hold to that. As things begin to spiral, we watch the lengths the Kim family will go to accomplish their goals, and the degree to which the Park family despises the poor. On an emotional level, these warring perspectives speak to core themes of greed and desire — core ideas that all viewers, regardless of perspective, can understand.
As we continue to navigate this discussion of class, greed, and ambition, I think it’s important we keep PARASITE’s cautionary tale in mind. If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that this conversation about the gap between the rich and the poor is not going away anytime soon. Neither is the palpable class anxiety, which is a natural result of the societal disparity we see.
In a year where there were a lot of films discussing class — from Rian Johnson’s KNIVES OUT, to THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO, to READY OR NOT, and more — PARASITE stands tall as the most human, the most gut-wrenching, the most engrossing, and the most disturbing expression of this theme. That’s part of the reason why its Best Picture win is well deserved.