Parasite, a movie released in 2019 and directed by Bong Joon-ho, has a lot to unpack. Depending on your perspective, you may choose to understand the moral(s) of the story differently. The ambiguity with which the movie’s narrative is executed may be seen as a narrative in and of itself, more about that soon. I believe that the intention of this movie is to provide an abstract narrative that I will mention in my concluding paragraph. There is certainly much more to say than what I’m covering here, I am by no means providing an exhaustive review.
The Kim family, at first, may be interpreted as parasites: entering a host (i.e. Park family’s life) and leeching on to their gullibleness. If you don’t wish to uncover any other narratives, the film continues to validate that initial perspective if you wish it to: the manipulative, uneducated, and unappreciative poor who are taking from the rich instead of trying to make their own success. Are they not smart and capable? This fits one of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of “parasite”: “a person who exploits the hospitality of the rich and earns welcome by flattery”
We can dig in a different direction, and we might wonder if it is actually the Park families of the world that are the parasites. They survive and thrive off of the hard work of their drivers, their maids, the tutors they hire for their children, the (invisible) landscaping crew that create and maintain the fabulous exterior of their home, etc. All these skilled workers may not be rich monetarily, but they are “rich” with the skills necessary to provide the kind of comfort and confidence with which members of the Park family could navigate day-to-day life but could never actually provide for each other.
Let’s dive a little deeper. Merriam-Webster’s definition of “parasitism” states: “an intimate association between organisms of two or more kinds; especially one in which a parasite obtains benefits from a host which it usually injures.”
For a large portion of the film, the Kims and Parks seem to be settling in to something more akin to a symbiotic relationship than a parasitic one: one pays for and accepts the services of the other, the other provides labour and accepts payment. There doesn’t seem to ever be a real threat posed by either side to the other. But what about the relationship between the Kim family and the former housekeeper, Moon-gwang, and her husband, Geun-sae?
In this curious turn of events, the discovery of one another, a conflict ensues. It matters not that both the Kim family and the couple are attempting to accomplish the same general goal, they immediately see each other as threats. Instead of working together, they fight and are ready to kill each other over the potential to keep making meagre wages, money that the Park family sees as mere crumbs.
The ensuing violence and chaos hurt both families and the couple. If we follow the above-mentioned definitions of “parasite” and “parasitism” it is clear that none were parasites. The framework made up of families, workers, and the relationships between them and the roles they play, that is, humanity, is the host. How these relationships play out is inevitably dictated by an economic system, in this case, capitalism, which thrives off of pitting people against one another by creating class divisions, to maintain and empower itself. I am not interested in presenting a pro-/anti-capitalist analysis, I’m sure a simple Google search can present you, dear reader, with much of that content. I do, however, admire how the filmmakers were able to create such an abstract narrative that provides viewers with multiple interpretations to choose from, the choice being made, definitely, depends on the viewer’s own narrative.