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Parasite: A Commentary on Interpersonal Relations

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

By: Andrew Zhang

Director Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 Korean film titled “Parasite” has a deceptive name. Would there be sci-fi protozoa? What should your expectations be? Does one need any cultural context; the film is a foreign film after all.

How foreignness is seen is precisely what the film seeks to analyze and challenge. As the audience learns to interact with the film’s messages, scenes including complex emotions will leave the audience feeling conflicted and uneasy. Fear is rooted in uncertainty, and through mystery and careful storytelling, we come to share a laugh with the film as we stop to think about the intricate details of our own unsettling realities.

“Parasite”—which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, DirectingInternational Feature Film and Writing (Original Screenplay)—is a film that calls into question our motives and why we treat others a certain way, and gains the respect of its audience members through its intrinsic value and cultural implications of society. The film focuses on the Kim family who uses artifice to work for the Park family; but real life is not so superficial. Films like “Parasite” that calibrate and balance the tempo of the story are rare and exquisite. The full effect of the film is truly best experienced without much context for the first time.

We are each so different. Our variable experiences and thoughts are essentially what develop our character. We each share the propensity for specific emotions, but those emotions are not experienced in the same manner.

What’s remarkable is the fact that we learn to coexist because of our interdependence and openness to variability. In some ways we may be metaphorically parasitic towards each other; however, our coexistence does not necessarily have to be parasitism---there is also mutualism and commensalism.

“Parasite” examines the structural framework of capitalist institutions through several recurring motifs and the overall consistency in how each character behaves as the plot progressively intensifies. The concept of class mobility and its elusiveness is stitched into the aesthetic appeal of the film. Sharp contrasts seen in the film allow us to understand the character’s emotions and moral direction.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 20th century novel, “The Great Gatsby,” also focuses on sharp contrasts in our society that affect our livelihood, but “Parasite” suggests that in addition to our own identities, values and expectations, there is something inherent in a capitalist society itself that creates systemic differences in our experiences.

What threatens our sense of inclusion and diversity? One’s ignorance and ethnocentrism make novel experience fresh, purposeful and generative by using our inexperience as a tool for understanding differences amongst us. The 180-degree differences we see in others---through social status, thought, identity or experience---can be redeveloped to become opportunities for education and progression.

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