A Parasitic Parable

‘Tis the (Oscars) season: time to revisit some of the year’s best pictures.

First up: Parasite. 

Write All Nite’s devoutest reader — … (my mother) … — voiced a sentiment that seems to be widely-held regarding the movie: it jumps the logical shark with the basement reveal.

My retort: the story’s intentionally not set in a realistic register; it’s a Hans Christian Andersen / Brothers Grimm fairy tale for the modern, capitalist age (it’s by no means modern for such fairy tales to bear sociopolitical resonance, a staple of the form since its inception). In this case, the genre’s proverbial bottom-dwelling golem in the basement is not in fact the actual people in the basement, but rather the manmade existence of the metaphorical basement itself: poverty, the “evil” that the front-facing “beauty” of wealth is predicated upon; capturing the lunacy of wealth disparity’s cruel reality calls for surreality.

Parasite foregrounds this leap to a heightened tone in the very first scene, when a rich friend presents the central family — who live in a basement tenement of their own — with a magical rock. The movie’s telling us upfront: this is the bedROCK of the story, the foundation upon which the rest unfolds.

The ultimate upending of the house turns this fable — and the house itself — into a symbolic microcosm for class warfare. The once-poor(er), now-rich(er) family cling to the mere whiffs of comfort they’ve scrounged together by keeping down the once-rich(er), now-poor(er) couple hidden in the basement, an allegory for the poverty cycle, specifically how capitalism pits the poor against the poor to fight amongst themselves for morsels of wealth — the basementers literally live off scraps from above — while the wealthy enjoy their total luxury.

Though at first the “parasite” of the title appears to be the poorer family — infiltrating the rich’s abode, spreading like a virus — the real parasite turns out to the one plaguing all of society: wealth disparity, a monster without a face that inspires everyone to act monstrously. And those existing at the top of the house / societal food chain would like nothing more than not to know the ugliness of what goes on underneath. Let the devastating consequences reside below, out of sight, in the basement.

The problem isn’t when they come up for air; the problem is that they’re being suffocated of air, of what they need to survive, in the first place.

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