DEVIN MEENAN, Arts and Life Editor—The 21st century, the now past-2010s in particular, have seen filmmaking become a more homogenous business. Blockbusters derived from pre-existing properties dominate theater chains like never before. That isn’t to say none of these films have merit, but when so many of them are produced on such a consistent basis, they start to blur together in your memory. You forget what you loved about them in the first place, and even about cinema.
So there’s nothing more exciting for cinema than when a film totally unconventional by American standards breaks through the bubble and captures the public consciousness. The most recent film to do this is Bong Joon-Ho’s “Parasite,” which after earning back its production budget 25 times over worldwide and sweeping the Oscars, was screened here at Denison in a collaboration between the Denison Film Society (DFS) and the Denison Asian Student Union (DASU).
I saw the film in theaters when it first premiered, but rewatching it in the same environment actually proved a more rewarding experience than when I first saw it. So much of my enjoyment of “Parasite” the first time around came from going in blind and watching the (incredible) story unfold without any clue as to where its narrative maze would end. Watching it in the company of an engaged audience but one seemingly just as blind as I had been on my initial viewing meant the suspense of my first viewing was replaced with one of anticipation; I eagerly awaited the inevitable laughs, gasps and screams.
Once the screening had concluded, DASU hosted a discussion of the film, allowing the audience to interpret what they had seen, so now it’s time to offer mine.
The thing that’s most fascinated me about the international reception to “Parasite” is how it broke through the language barrier; 99.9% of the dialogue is in Korean, yet it proved just as smashing a hit here as it was in the country where it was made and set. To his credit, Bong Joon-Ho has a succinct answer to this: “We all live in the same country, called Capitalism.”
Indeed, the film captures like no other the instability and impregnable barriers to comfort which so many face under the gig economy. The film also demonstrates how such precariousness makes class solidarity among all but the most comfortable an impossibility, for the working-class characters on the film commit violence against one another rather than their natural enemy.
While certain elements may prove more of a Rorschach-test than others (which of the families you believe to be the titular “Parasite” will probably depend upon your own station in society), some brilliant-in-its-simplicity visual storytelling, such as the Kims living in a subterranean apartment while the Parks live upon a hill, will be hard for even the most untrained eye to miss.
The ending, a last-minute twist, provides the most damning indictment of all; Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), discovering his fugitive father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) has taken refuge in the hidden basement of the Park family home, vows to earn enough money to one day buy the house and reunite with his father. What we’re initially led to believe is a flash-forward turns out instead to be a fantasy, because that’s all class mobility really is: a fleeting dream meant to sustain indoctrination.