|The cast of PARASITE at NYFF|
The film is the story of a poor family which talks it’s way into working for a rich family and then things happen, including a couple of out of left field things. It is on the face of it a critique of wealth and social inequality but for my money it has some serious problems that prevent it from being great.
The first problem for me is that the film is very much on the surface. Reading on and discussing the film I found lots of discussions about the obvious differences, the rich above the poor below,the way wealth changes us and the vapidness of wealth didn’t go much beyond that. Watching the film I saw all of that but I didn’t see much beyond the obvious statements. I came out of the screening scratching my head wondering what I was missing. There had to be something missing that people were reacting to…
…and then I had a long conversation with Hubert Vigilla where we hashed out a good number of points and I realized – nope I’m seeing the film as it is, I just am not digging it the way everyone else is.
Hey it happens. We all don’t like the same films.
At the same time I do want to say a few things.
First I am kind of disappointed in Bong Joon Ho with this film in that pretty much all of his points are obvious and out front. Sure films like SNOWPIERECER and OKJA wore their hearts on their sleeve, but outside of their preachy parts a good chunk of the film still had tidbits hidden beneath them. There was a complexity to things that allowed further thought and discussion, for example the society of the train in SNOWPIERCER is not just rich or poor. There were layers and complexity, that are not in PARASITE.
Indeed PARASITE makes it’s points with a sledgehammer.There is almost no subtly. As I said above shit goes down hill. Several things such as the smell of the poor, is repeatedly in increasing obvious digs as if to say “do you get it now?” Sure OKJA’s politics were on the sleeve but in PARASITE every damn point was bludgeoned into place.
Morally and thematically I have no idea what I am supposed to take away. What is the films views of the rich? Idle and disconnected? Stupid? Yes. But at the same time they aren’t bad even if they have a holier than thou attitude for the way they fire their help and carelessly rehire. Does that in and of itself mean they are bad? Does that mean we have a reason not to like them or side with them? No. It simply means that they are cut outs we are supposed to boo and hiss because we are told to. To be certain there are tales where, as in life, good people suffer, but usually it’s in the cause of something greater, I don’t know if there is something greater because there is almost nothing to their characters and the reasons behind it are too shallow.
Related the poor family are not particularly good people. Yes they are our heroes and the ones we root for but only because they are our focus. Change to point of view and we probably wouldn't like them much. Yes, I know that's the point but some things I've read seemed to forget that. We don’t know if living on the edge has warped them, but they are just con men and women. Sure we like them, but they are our focus. The destruction they leave in their wake is monstrous not just to the rich family but the people who work for them. Complicating matters is even when they get to be rich, they take over their employers house for a weekend, they kind of trash the place and treat it with as little respect as their home at the bottom of the hill. They are ultimately low class regardless of their economic status. And they don't care because it's not their place as witnessed by their always getting up set by the guy pissing outside their window
And this to me warps any idea of what Bong may be trying to say. This isn’t really about economy because no one changes, even for a moment. This isn’t a satire about class but a warning about how lower classes are going to be bad no matter where they are. There is no hope so don’t let them in. There maybe something to be said about being working middle class but based on the people we meet they are either screwed over (the driver) or hiding something terrible in the basement (the house keeper). To me, in this film everybody sucks regardless of where they are.
The whole guy hiding in the bomb shelter thing doesn’t really work for me. While it adds a nice dramatic edge and a tone of tension, I don’t think it works on logical level since why wasn’t the family told about the tunnels when they bought the house, and does the whole controlling the lights from the hidden cellar really make any sort of sense, never mind the real world but in the film? No it doesn’t and it only serves to show how out of control Boong’s narrative and plotting is.
I’m sorry this film is really messy. It is also incredibly superficial.
Yes it is a funny film, and at times a tense thriller, but it is decidedly not the great film many have thought it to be.