By Tyler Bey and Malcolm Walker, VOX ATL teen staff
South Korean Director Bong Joon-Ho moved into the lives and hearts of avid film fans everywhere with the release of his newest directorial effort, “Parasite.” The film, which had its release in the United States last October and now available on streaming platforms like Hulu, shocked everyone with how blatantly brilliant it was.
It’s brilliance continued to show during awards season, picking up four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, the first foreign film to capture Oscar’s biggest prize.
Now, especially due to the emergence of COVID-19, the brilliance of “Parasite” continues to radiate worldwide.
Thematically, the film touches on privilege and poverty and gives some unintentionally spot-on precognition to the struggle of those unable to afford medical help for their sicknesses.
With the film’s subtle mockings of western ideologies like capitalism, upon which our country is heavily built, “Parasite” remains a polarizing film for some Americans.
We Are Only Commodities
The most prevalent setting in the South Korea-set film is the opulent residence owned by rich couple Mr. and Mrs. Park (Lee Sun Kyun and Cho Yeo Jeong), a house built by the film’s acclaimed but fictitious architect Namgoong Hyeon. The other main characters in “Parasite” are the Kims, a poor family that becomes intertwined with the Park family.
The Park household is run by the family’s longtime housekeeper (played by Lee Jung Eun). The Parks note that she is exceptionally good at her job and they have very little to complain about. So it’s interesting when the Kim family sabotages the maid’s employment, telling the Park family that she has tuberculosis, that the Park family isn’t concerned with her health or well being, but only whether she’ll infect the house.
What co-writer and director Bong Joon Ho is telling us, is that no matter how good the working class is at their jobs, in the face of capitalism, we are only commodities. It is impossible to ignore the connection to this statement and the coronavirus. With an estimated 20 million jobs lost since the havoc of COVID-19 began, a lot of Americans are realizing they are completely expendable. They’re a mere number on a page that can be erased or changed, no matter how long they’ve been loyal to a business, no matter how well they’ve done their job.
Surviving a Flood
Later in the movie, the Park family goes on a camping trip, but is forced to come back home because of heavy rain. While they get home safe and sound, the Kim family arrives home to their small basement apartment flooding. The excellent camera work allows the audience to understand that the richer districts of this city have a quality drainage system that prevents flooding, while the poorer districts don’t have this privilege.
The next day, Mrs. Park is elated to see the clear sky, now pollution-free from the heavy rains. The dramatic irony built here is incredibly effective in provoking questions from the audience: is it wrong to be rich and privileged?
The climax of the movie explodes in a bloody revolution. While part of me feels that this is what certain characters deserve, another part of me remembers that these people didn’t do anything inherently wrong.
Wrong To Be Rich?
So is Bong Joon Ho really saying that it’s wrong to be rich? No. What he’s saying is that it is wrong to be privileged and ignorant. With wealth comes responsibility to understand the poor and less privileged.
With COVID-19 spreading intensely, it’s important for us to understand our privilege. Not everyone is in a living condition privileged enough to social distance. Not everyone can flee the crisis. Although celebrities seem to think “we are all in this together” or “we are all in the same boat,” we are not. A lot of people have lost a lot more than their prom or their spring break.
When tragedy hits, whether it be flooding, sicknesses (viruses, parasites or otherwise), it is important for the privileged to understand how they can make a positive impact in dire situations.
If they can not, the privileged among us could face the same fate as some of the characters in “Parasite,” as those who have been banished to the basements of society, begin the revolution.
The 2020 Academy Award Best Picture winner is a powerful parable for all of us living through COVID-19.
Written by VOX ATL teen staffers Malcolm Walker, a student at North Atlanta High School and a film addict, and Tyler Bey, who attends Maynard Jackson High and is a theatre lover.