Korean film ‘Parasite’ offers audiences the year’s best laughs and chills
Movies love families.
Something about the dynamics that thrive between people with blood lines and living spaces in common gives moviemakers a lot to play with.
As we enjoy movies about families, we may occasionally wonder how the family we live with might translate to the big screen. Are we as entertaining as we think we are? What would others say? Would the antics we share be considered unique enough for mass audiences to embrace? Do we reveal enough of our eccentricities to keep people interested? And would others find humor in moments we might consider quite serious?
I’d love to chat with Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho about his immediate family because, as we cherish his fabulous new film, “Parasite,” we are reminded how the absurd things that siblings and parents do really make us care. This funny and devastating look at the devotion and commitment people share may not paint a conventional portrait of family life but beautifully celebrates the layers of love that can thrive inside a home.
For this family, that home is a semi-basement apartment in a rundown part of a city, where telephone signals are difficult to secure, Wi-Fi networks are less than reliable and clean water and air are rarely within reach. Inside we discover a mother who protests, a father who withdraws, a daughter who imagines and a son who dreams. Within those fantasies this young man pictures a different life for everyone, so much so that, instead of waiting for conventional opportunity, he seizes the chance to befriend a wealthy family by pretending to be qualified to be a tutor for their daughter. Shortly he finds so much success exaggerating the truth that he lands a role for his sister as an art instructor, his father as a driver, and his mother as the head of the house. Within what seems no time at all, the family is suddenly flush with financial success, none of which anyone legitimately earns.
As fun as this family may be, Joon-ho has more on his mind than taking a joy ride. As quickly as he lets us begin to enjoy the success these people share - at the expense of their clueless customers - Joon-ho begins to ask if such riches are deserved. As the moviemaker begins to test how his characters can handle outrageous challenges, he reveals how this collection of souls, so poorly prepared for the lives they pretend to lead, discovers how holding on to success can be more complicated than pulling off the con.
Throughout it all, Joon-ho brilliantly lets us into the joke, giving us vantage points his characters cannot see. As a result, we see what loose ends this morality tale must connect before his characters can embrace the impossibilities. And we learn, ultimately, that what creates laughs in the short term can generate true sadness that only a delicate filmmaker can creatively balance. The genius of “Parasite” is not how it tells its story, it’s how Joon-ho lets us decide how we want that story to end.
Film Nutritional Value: Parasite
Content: High. Bong Joon-ho’s examination of a family that chooses to deceive to survive raises fascinating questions about the choices people make.
Entertainment: High. Thanks to a savvy screenplay, imaginative direction and captivating performances, the characters come to life. As well as their choices.
Message: High. Because of the creativity of the approach, and the authenticity of the narrative, a message of tolerance and understanding naturally emerges.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk about issues of lies and deception with older teenagers can be meaningful.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older teenagers, talk about what it would take for a family to make these choices.
“Parasite” is shown in Korean with subtitles. The film is rated R for “language, some violence, and sexual content,” and runs 2 hours and 12 minutes.