On Oct. 5 in 2019, director Bong Joon Ho released Parasite, a movie detailing the stark divisions between different social classes. The film harnesses the use of metaphors and symbolism to bring into question the integrity of economic separation and exposes unjust social trends that the population seems to depend on for internal stability and sense of self. (Spoilers ahead!)
The comedy turned thriller follows the protagonist Ki-Woo and his family as they struggle to find financial stability. Presented with the opportunity to tutor a wealthy family’s daughter, Ki-Woo takes the chance to somewhat infiltrate their house with the rest of his family. They masterfully scheme against the current workers in the house by taking their jobs, assuming roles of unrelated workers so that they can manipulate the Parks’ surplus of wealth. Despite their facade, the Kim’s live in a stingy semi-basement, constrained physically and mentally by the claustrophobic space that is their home.
One prevalent symbol used throughout the film is staircases or the different levels in houses to represent different social classes. The Parks live in a stylish mansion designed by a renowned architect; adorned with multiple floors, expensive appliances, and breathtaking architecture, the house acts as an image of desire, taken advantage of by the wealthy who live there. The Kims, as previously mentioned, live in a semi-basement, representing the lower class. Halfway between above and below ground, the family is plagued by the hope for a better future; they constantly look up through their up-facing window, a front that acts as both the opening and closing image of the film.
When the tone of the comedy shifts to that of a thriller, it is revealed that there is a secret bunker in the Parks’ home. The previous housekeeper’s husband had been living there for nearly four years, hiding away from debts and unpaid loans. The deranged couple embodies that of the lowest class, deep underground and never seeing the light. The Kims scoff at any comparison between the two families, appalled by the couple’s chosen lifestyle.
As a result of their repulsion, the two families polarize any plausible relationship formed over the shared experience of enduring lower class realities. The two groups subject themselves to a petty feud, with the couple filming the family for strategic leverage against them. They threaten to send the video to their employers, holding the threat over the Kim family like a gun to the head. Despite this, the Kims gain the upper hand when locking the couple in the underground bunker to die.
Over the course of the movie, the Kims slowly lose their sense of family as they grow closer to economic success. In the beginning of the movie, although each of them are suffering from the disparity of social classes, they are content in their personal relationships and find safety and comfort in their modest lifestyle. The prospect of wealth utterly corrupts each of their characters; the progression of the film exposes the true effects of surplus wealth, expressing that the true “parasite” is money.