Parasite ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

It’s an odd moment when a beautiful fable turns sour. Odd because, maybe, it’s always a bit surprising how disappointing it is. Or, no — rather, how boring it is. Or.. ok. It’s disappointing to be bored, and odd to explain it. I’m in knots. I’ll start again.

Much like it’s recent, (most?) popular national sibling, Lee Chang Dong’s Burning (2018), Parasite seems easily divisible into two more-or-less equal halves — pre-plot-kicking
-in and post-plot-kicking-in. This isn’t to say there is no narrative in the first half of either film, but that there is no mechanical lockstep shlock in the driver’s seat. Needless to say, I much prefer — even greatly enjoy — these halves. Then, ‘the moment’ happens, and the directors make the decision to forgo the magic and visual idiolect they’ve built, suddenly (and I’d like to say “inexplicably”, but I can’t say I don’t understand it, even if I don’t agree with its efficacy) driving in the direction of an unsettling realism. I have good grips, I believe, on what the movies were saying, what they were trying to do, what they did do (If anything, Burning is the film more dedicated to poetic ambiguity, lending itself more to multiple and subjective interpretation, and I did enjoy the first half of that better, maybe much better, than the first of this — check my review from 7/6/2020 for more). But I’m disappointed because the second halves, and more specifically the climaxes, were just so damn lazy and obvious.

Focusing solely on Parasite again: It takes real fucking work to pull off non-surreal, or non(-often-testosterone-fueled)-genre murders. It’s not impossible by any means. It’s just hard. I’ve been trying to think of why that is — why Pina can be gunned down in Rome, Open City (1945) and Patricia can shoot Michel in Breathless (1960) and The Shape can kill babysitters in Halloween (1972) — why and how these work. And why the murders here felt like cop outs — felt like obvious decisions made by an amateur writer (which Joon-ho isn’t) looking to eek a flash from the pan. I’ve not been able to come up with anything definitive. But I will say this: here, none of it felt necessary, or effective, or even moderately important. I’ll go so far as to say that I was angered by them, a feeling I can’t seem to accurately explain besides assuming I was upset at the lack of thought and care. If you’re treating depictions of human life callously, have a greater purpose.

Again, it’s not that I can’t justify the decision. The main character keeps mentioning the whole thing is a metaphor, and, so, obviously, the whole thing then might rightly be seen as a metaphor — representing the horrific nature of capitalistic class stratification, and/or the potentially-possible but morally-doomed attempt to use any means necessary (duplicity, extreme selfishness, violent revolution) to overthrow that system (that’s my most charitable reading — and it is, indeed, quite charitable), or any number of tangentially related topics. The problem is, there’s nothing gained here. The explicit gore, the hectic, scrambling violence, the horrible lurching moments of suspense — they might be (they are) captivating, but they undermine something even more important — our empathy. The characters the first half builds become in the second half — instead of people who become more recognizable and emotionally resonant as the narrative deepens their humanity — caricatures, as the artificial situations become more and more unwieldy for the film’s allegorical framework to support. Despite the level of technical competence and cinematic brilliance, by failing to deliver any real human connection (them to each other, us to them, them to us, us to us) beyond the first few minutes, the film becomes a pointless, bland exercise what? In explicating its own rage? In the disproven notion of catharsis? In raising the blood of those audience members who already agree with the argument it lays out?

There is no love driving any diegetic aspect of this film, and we, therefore, get nothing from it besides a momentarily sweaty neck and an excuse to geek out over composition and performance. (Where is the fun, the revelry, the excess of Snowpiercer (2013)?!)

Parasite, ultimately, is an unconvincing film — meaning, literally, it won’t convince anyone not already on Bong Joon-ho’s side of the aisle — politically, spiritually, whatever. This also means that it is less effective, I think, even for those already there. It left me moderately disturbed, and mostly unmoved. And that’s why it’s boring. Not that there weren’t moments in which I was on the edge of my seat, but that, when the credits rolled, I was not changed even a bit. Good art transforms.

Look to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) and Lino Brocka’s Manila in the Claws of Light (1975) for much more empathetic, human depictions of analogous injustices and the very real, very justified anger they spur on.


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