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Wealth and environmental disasters are at the forefront of ‘Parasite’

movie review

<p>“Parasite” follows the financially-struggling Kim family.</p>

“Parasite” follows the financially-struggling Kim family.

If the Palme d’Or and 99% Rotten Tomatoes rating didn't tip you off already, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” is a masterpiece. At once hilarious, thrilling and heartbreaking, “Parasite” packs intricate social commentary about class division and wealth inequality into 2 hours and 11 minutes of brilliance.

“Parasite” follows the financially-struggling Kim family as they scam their way into working for the wealthy Park family. Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), the son in the Kim family, lands a gig as an English tutor for the Parks’ teenage daughter. With comically clever precision, the Kims con the Parks into hiring their entire family as domestic help under the guise that they are completely familially unrelated. Ki-woo’s sister, Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), becomes an art therapist for the Park’s precocious but traumatized son; his father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), becomes the Parks’ driver and his mother, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), becomes the Parks’ housekeeper.

Rich visuals characterize the Kims and Parks as classic foils. The Kims live in a cramped, semi-basement apartment in the depths of Seoul while the Parks inhabit a sleek, modern mansion atop a hill. A drunken man routinely urinates against the wall outside the Kim’s half-window while sprinklers water the Park’s impeccable green lawn. With upward economic mobility out of reach, the Kims seem content to sample a taste of wealth through their proximity to the Parks. When the Parks go out of town for a camping trip, the Kims play “house” in their castle, lounging on the Parks’ massive couch and indulging in a feast of snacks and alcohol.

“She’s rich, but still nice,” Ki-taek observes.

Chung-sook corrects, “Nice because she’s rich.”

While class is at the forefront of “Parasite,” lurking in the background (or even, I would argue, subtly commanding the narrative) is the way our global climate crisis exacerbates those already fraught socioeconomic lines. Bong has previously used science fiction to explore environmental issues, like in his 2006 film, “The Host,” and his 2013 film, “Snowpiercer.” But in 2019, Bong opts for a soberly realistic lens of contemporary environmental disasters. In doing so, he shines an unforgiving light on capitalism at the center of our dying planet.

Heavy rain unearths a shocking hidden secret from the depths of the Parks’ house. And when the storm prompts the Parks’ to return home early from their trip, heart-racing tension crescendos as the different worlds converge. Quickly the storm swells into a monster of its own. With Bong playing God, the Parks’ mansion is Noah’s Ark as the rain rolls harmlessly down their driveway and into the drainage below. But when the Kims race back to their own reality, that drainage has burst into a sewage flood that engulfs their area of the city and destroys their home.

The Kims spend the night in a tiny gymnasium packed with hundreds of similarly ill-fated neighbors while Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong) wakes up and decides to host a garden party with her well-to-do friends, blissfully oblivious to the destruction of the previous night’s rain. When Ki-taek chauffeurs Mrs. Park around as she shops for her party, something has shifted. Now, he doesn’t see Mrs. Park’s frivolity as innocently “nice,” but rather as cruel indifference in the context of his own devastating loss. The water washes away the nicety of wealth, revealing the stark injustice of economic inequality and breeding a growing resentment in Ki-taek that carries into the stunning finale of the film. 

If the water imagery seems heavy-handed, it’s because it is. In cities like Seoul and around the world, increased precipitation as a result of global warming is causing deadly flooding. These floods, both in “Parasite” and in real life, reinforce what we already know: The “have-nots” bear the weight of our spiraling climate crisis while the “haves” will always be able to escape unscathed. By using climate change as a tool to explore class resentment, Bong leans into a societal anxiety at the forefront of conversations surrounding climate change. The horrors that ensue as a result of that resentment feel deeply real and intensified given the ticking clock on our earth’s future. 

“Parasite” is a timely and utterly engaging cinematic experience. Run, don’t walk, when it comes to Carolina Theater Nov. 15.

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