Parasite is not an easy film to write about. It would be a misnomer to label it to any one genre while it readily defies categorisation. This satire spans many without ever losing touch with its overall narrative, darting from dark comedy to political think piece, ultimately concluding in family tragedy. More impressively, director/writer Bong Joon Ho’s handling of these tonal shifts is such that, though Parasite remains shockingly unpredictable, the turns the film takes never feel out of the blue.
Ho’s screenplay continues his thematic preoccupation with political commentary and economic inequality. His screenplay excels in portraying the situation and its characters with nuanced ambiguity. This is a story of the haves and the have-nots. The Parks – who are the haves – are not an opaquely evil presence, just as the Kims are not unimpeachably good. The former’s desire for a higher social position involves plotting to displace innocent people from theirs – demonstrating the kind of dichotomy boiling under its surface.
For all the praise (rightly) lavished on the screenplay, its coupling with superb cinematography elevates Parasite from good to great. The pairing of shots throughout the film – most notably those of the Kims staring out the window – perfectly illustrates the rise and fall of the family’s fortunes.
The use of vertical space contributes to the uniqueness of its visuals. This is displayed perfectly with the Kims’ commute to the Parks’ house. In the first half, the optimistic portion of the drama, the ascent is merely implied, with only the final steps up towards the summit dramatized. This is then payed off perfectly in two set pieces during the latter half of the film. Firstly, during the long descent into the basement, the stairs keep moving down and the light goes from the screen, symbolising the even lower societal position occupied by the resident of the basement. The second comes during the long, drawn out fall of three members of the Kim family following the return of the Parks return from a camping trip – a fall shown in excruciating detail as they climb down staircase after staircase during a downpour, culminating in the reveal of the flooding of their apartment. A crash to rock-bottom, a place where even the toilet is a climb up.
Parasite was two hours of watching someone who clearly loves film produce a near-perfect picture, anchored by a story that stays in your head long after the credits finish rolling. A worthy winner of Best Picture and a resoundingly strong start to the next decade in cinema.