Class and Privilege in “Parasite”

By: Emma Miao (Grade 10)

**Warning: spoilers ahead**

A few Sundays ago, Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite swept the 2020 Oscars. The South-Korean film phenom dominated four major awards, winning both “best foreign film” and “best picture”. Parasite stood out for a few reasons — not only was it gripping and hilarious, but it also addressed underlying questions about class and privilege.  

Parasite is an upstairs-downstairs film. It explores the possibility, or lack thereof, of climbing a class ladder that has little regard for human dignity in its lowest rungs. We are introduced to the Kim family: in their musty dank half-basement home, they fold pizza boxes, breathe in free disinfectant, and latch onto their neighbors’ wifi signal by day, and dream of bigger, better things by night. While they are below ground, they try to convince themselves they are afloat — a metaphor for their social situation. 

When Ki-Woo scores a job, as a tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family, her other family members quickly grab onto the opportunity to follow in her footsteps. Individually, they effectively infiltrate the family, with the father getting hired as a personal driver, the son as an art therapist, and the mother as a nanny, kicking out their older counterparts and effectively taking over all parts of the Parks’ home. Everything is fine, until the Parks leave for an impromptu camping trip. 

With the Parks gone, the Kim family stretches out and relaxes, taking full advantage of a house they will never be able to afford. Suddenly, the doorbell rings. To their surprise, they find the previous nanny, drenched and beaten by the harshness of street life, standing at their doorstep. This leads to the discovery of her husband, who had been (surprise!) living under the house for 3+ years in a cramped, poorly lit hallway of a room that contrasts so drastically with the smooth wooden walls of the Park home upstairs. The movie devolves into a dangerous, dark place that ultimately climaxes in the killing of the Park’s little boy, and the subsequent murder of most of the Kims. 

Parasite revealed the hidden struggles of lower classes in a dystopian world of extreme wealth disparity— one that may not be so different from current day America. 

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This chart of wealth in the US shows that the top 10 percent of families hold almost 70% of the country’s overall wealth. The “American Dream” is truly just a dream for the overwhelming majority of the country. The Kims’ struggles resonate with so many because they come from a vague place of familiarity, harboring the same confusion and hatred towards the finger-painting, tutor paying upper class they are subjected to servitude. 

The Kims cracked the class code by realizing the ease of passing by as rich: the changing of clothes, the photoshopping of university seals, the learning of basic “rich” convention. The economic divide, according to Parasite, is not only exceedingly large, but also arbitrary, as the Kims are arguably more able and intelligent than the Parks, even though they are dismissed as lesser by virtue of their class. 

Even the structure of house hides is a reflection of hidden struggle below the surface. At first glance, everyone is interacting peacefully with one another, but below the surface brews resentment and anger towards higher classes, and the luxury they don’t deserve to have. 

We can’t blame the Parks, or the Kims. These are people swept up in neoliberal machinery much larger than they are. They represent a class struggle interwoven into global capitalist structures— so entrenched is it in society that we find it difficult to imagine anything else. 

Parasite is a powerful mirror of our world today. When the Kims’ home gets flooded, we see the consequences of economic and natural disasters hitting the bottom class the hardest while the upper class can (literally and figuratively) stroll, disaffected, in their high mansions. Likewise, climate change historically has affected women and the lower class, particularly in population centers like Vancouver where the temperature could vary 10 degrees from urban to residential areas. Parasite reveals the vicious cycle of much of the lower class: working many jobs, those individuals fall victim to scams and natural disasters, and learn how to fake it to survive. The cycle perpetuates: the rich get richer and poor get poorer. 

Parasite brings up many moral questions about the type of world we want to live in, and the type of system we want to be subservient to. We will need to formally address these questions and create solutions to lead happier lives as a society. 

 

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