R, mainly for cruelty. The trailers make this movie look super duper gory throughout. I would say that it has moments of intense violence and gore, but the rest of the movie is actually kind of tame. There's icky stuff in the movie, to be sure. The movie tip-toes around some statutory stuff, but the real stuff is just the cruelty that ensues throughout the film. If you have a thing about head injuries, you might get a little bit squeamish. There's also a pretty intense knife attack. But most of the movie is pretty okay. Oh, again, some kinda/sorta feces stuff too. Oh, and some graphic sex without nudity. Nothing to write home about. It's not The Lighthouse. R.
DIRECTOR: Bong Joon Ho
I wish that I could say that I've seen more of Director Bong's movies. I adored The Host years ago. Snowpiercer was pretty great, but it was an adaptation of someone else's work. But when I heard that one of his films was up for an Academy Award, I got really excited. When I heard it was called Parasite, I simply assumed it was going to be a genre piece. I mean, The Host and Snowpiercer were both genre works, so I assumed the same would carry through. Instead, what I get is a movie that I have a really hard time placing inside a specific category. I stopped doing SPOILER WARNINGS, but I really have to stress that the twist works so much better with it as a surprise. The trailer actually kind of spoils it, but I went in blind, so I encourage you to go in the same way.
I don't think I've ever seen such a tonal shift that worked so well in a movie. My wife and I were watching this movie together and commenting during the film (because we're obnoxious) how much we were loving the film. We knew something was going to happen. Things were just getting too light and pleasant. Also, the goals of the characters were nearing their completion and the movie just couldn't end. (But if it was a short...) So when that tonal shift happened, geez louise, I was not ready. I almost don't want to call it a twist. It is the plot, but the plot just shows up so late in the game. We may have become addicted to plot twists. Yeah, a gun to my head, I'd have to say that Parasite has a plot twist. But the twist in the movie is one not of "You should have seen this coming", but more along the line of adding complications to an already complicated world.
I somehow adore the world of Parasite. We couldn't help but make comparisons to Shoplifters, which I don't like making that instant jump. I get the same way about The Lower Depths. I don't know why American audiences stay away from this demographic, but I like the character development that is associated with a group of people who bond together over poverty. We tend to have the story of the isolated impoverished. American characters that are poor are out against a system that shows people grasping for whatever straws they can. It's dog-eat-dog. But in movies like Parasite and Shoplifters, it doesn't deny that crime plays a part in the lives of the poor, but it does so as a communal act. In Shoplifters, the family was constructed over a bond in poverty. Parasite has biological ties between the family, but they are close because they depend on each other to survive.
I love how instantly these characters come across as sympathetic. It's so interesting because these are characters who, like the title implies, are parasitic on their environment. Kim Ki-woo instantly takes advantage of his friends offer. He prowls on his underage girlfriend and begins the whole cycle of manipulation. This is going to make me a bad person, but he oddly seems like a good guy throughout, despite his absolutely criminal behavior. It's not a Walter White situation where we want to see how evil Walt can get before the end of the story. It's just that the Park family seems absolutely vapid and obnoxious in their luxury. They aren't ever bad people. We rarely get those moments. It's just that you see that the priorities of the Park family compared the priorities of the Kim family makes the Kim family, despite all of the horrible activities that they perform, way more of a relatable family. It's really bizarre and I question my whole moral compass right now.
There's 10% of me who almost doesn't want the end. The end really works and I'm going to defend it. Director Bong does this thing in his movies where he does gorgeous gore. It's a little A24, but somehow tied directly to his particular style and aesthetic, making it valuable to the film. He cuts a lot of the Hollywoodness to the violence and makes impact work so much more intensely than stabbing. Everything in the movie escalates and it is what makes the movie memorable. I don't want to leave this idea because I believe that it has weight. But I also want to talk about how personal the movie feels before the basement reveal versus how epic the movie feels afterwards.
The stakes at the beginning are criminal. From that perspective, it is a story of the haves versus the have-nots. That movie has weight. It becomes really about character in those moments. The movie dares the characters to come to grips with each others moral scruples. If the movie really wished to be this intimate character piece, it could have the legs to extend the argument to the whole film about whether the Kim family has the right to do what they do, despite a sense of priorities. But then the movie is really just Shoplifters. I suppose that's my big argument. Shoplifters managed to pull off a very similar story, why can't Parasite? But Parasite, with its tonal shift, also kind of shifts genre as well. If the beginning of the movie is a dramedy, the latter 40% of the film is an intense thriller that gets really out of hand while making a comment on social class.
We were laughing pretty heartily for the first 60% of the movie. It's great and we fell in love with the character. The basement scene on, we were shouting at the screen. It's absolutely terrifying. In terms of playing with emotions, that's one of the primary goals of Parasite itself. It doesn't really let its audience get comfortable with all of the things being thrown at the screen. It's so much effort, but then the movie reminds us that there's a greater message. Ki-taek Kim chatting with Mr. Park reminds us that the entire world is insanely balanced. While I argued that the American poor fight each other, that may be a worldwide phenomenon that just looks a little different overseas. The fights between the Kim family and the family of the housekeeper should have been about wage equality with the Park family. There's something so degrading about the driver of a family having to dress up like a Native American brave, knowing that the poor were willing to kill each other over a dirty old basement and jobs that should have been considered pretty standard.
And that's where Parasite becomes more than a drama, a comedy, or a thriller. It becomes an amalgamation of all three while commenting on wage inequality. Yeah, it's pretty insane that Mr. Kim murders Mr. Park. That's a real flex. I'm not sure what was the moment there that really happened. I have to imagine it was the humiliation of the headdress. But I also think that Mr. Park saw what he had done over the past 48 hours and how that affected who he was as a person. It's interesting because I'm sympathetic to all the characters. Mr. Park is a jerk, but not really. Mr. Kim is a jerk, but not really. It's all about realizing what choices are being made in the moment. It's a world where violence speaks louder than dollars.
Director Bong is one of those directors that wake me up when he shows up. I'm still made at myself for not watching Okja because I know that there's probably something pretty special with that movie. I know that Parasite probably won't get the attention it deserves at the Academy Awards, but it might be my favorite movie this year.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.