During his childhood days, director Bong Joon Ho used to hike and traverse the hilly landscapes of his hometown Daegu in the country of South Korea, where he gradually became fond of collecting stones with his father. It must have been one of his favourite pastimes and nostalgia-inducing memories of his early days, for one such mystical rock found its way in his Oscar-winning movie, Parasite, many years after.
Based around the lives of two Korean families, Parasite is a tale about many things. The Kims, a poverty-stricken family living out in a semi-basement, slowly infiltrate the lives of the Parks, a rich family living in the home of a world-renowned architect. The Kims’ son, Ki-woo replaces his friend’s position as a tutor for the Parks’ daughter and hence begins a story about lying, cheating and manipulation as the rest of the Kims’ slowly slither their way into the household of the Parks’ as their domestic help. All of the plotting and scheming, when covered and infused with black comedy, thoroughly amuses all of us; however, it is midway through the movie when it takes a horrifying turn of events and a mirror is placed in front of us, to make us see a hard-hitting image of the class divide we all actively participate in perpetuating.
When asked during one of his interviews about where he got the inspiration for incorporating class-consciousness in his art, director Bong Joon Ho replied, “I think all creators, all artists, and even just everyone, we are always interested in class, 24/7. I think it would actually be strange if we’re not. You know, when we’re seeing people on the subway, on the streets, complete strangers, we wonder, how rich are they? Or you know, people we encounter in the airports, did they ride economy class, business class? We always wonder about this, because we live in the era of capitalism. I think we all have a very sensitive antennae to class, in general.”
It was during Ki-woo and his friend’s conversation, when he is gifted a mystifying and eccentric-looking rock by his friend. The rock confuses Ki-woo and he exclaims, “It’s so metaphorical!” when he shows it to his family. Throughout the movie, Ki-woo is shown to be bedazzled and stumped by this rock’s presence, a sentiment mirroring my own. This rock simply fascinated me. One of the few reasons for this was how strange it looked in the dingy basement of the Kims’. Later on in the movie, when it is used as a murder weapon, it perplexed me even more.
I like to dig up symbols in movies and I found plenty in this one. Frequent shots of stairs, basements, ascending roads and alleyways, smell and even noodles; each one of them were beautifully crafted as symbols for depicting the evils of capitalism and the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. The Parks’ are always portrayed climbing up the stairs in their home while the Kims’ are mostly shown descending them. One of the most famous scenes of the film depicting Mrs Park fawning over how blissful and lucky she felt that it rained heavily during the preceding night when that same rain caused the Kims’ to almost lose their house to floods is a testament to just how riddled we’ve all become to act class-ignorant.
When Ki-woo tightly hugs the gifted rock to his chest at a camp after a dreadful rain displaces hundreds like him and his family, it dawned on me that the rock represented a ‘hope’ for him. Whether it was the hope that he could lead a luxurious life as the rock’s original owner, his friend, or the long-dreamt of vision of a better future for him and his family, this rock meant something to him. It meant the unlikely possibility of a life free from the clutches of poverty, hence why he wanted to cling onto it so badly in times of adversity.
This false hope of dismantling a system forever uplifting the rich and denigrating the poor, by hook or by crook, takes the form of a malicious scheme initiated by Ki-woo himself, which leads to the Kims’ acting like a parasite, trying dearly to hold onto the Parks’ for their survival. The Parks’ leech off of the Kims’ hard labour, trying to keep them from ‘crossing the line’, in an attempt to maintain their status quo and respectability in the society. During one of the most realistic scenes in the film - the fight between the Kims’ and other members of the working class, it is reiterated that it’s the false hope of re-establishing one’s superiority over the other that is destroying them, when in reality they are all victims of the same evil and must stand in solidarity with each other. This false hope ultimately leads both the families of Kims’ and Parks’ to a disturbingly sad fate, which makes them go down a downward spiral they can probably never emerge from again.
Towards the end of the movie, we are shown an ideal representation of what the Kims’ family turns up like many years afterwards. A slightly older Ki-woo moves in with his mother to the house of the Parks and reunites with his father. It is a version of events too hard to believe but we almost believe it, because humans have a tendency to cling onto every last string of hope available, just like Ki-woo in the movie. Suddenly, the scene shifts to a young Ki-woo still sitting in his semi-basement home. The movie ends with a visual of the rock being placed back in the river, probably where it came from originally. This scene stumped me for words because it signified that Ki-woo was finally letting go of his false hope. Even though the ending of Parasite is deemed sad by most, for me, it was the ideal one. Maybe Ki-woo finally takes his father’s advice of making it all work by not having a plan at all. Maybe not.
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