REVIEW: Parasite

Tens of millions of television viewers recently rejoiced at the big screen return of a silver screen favorite. For four years, fans just couldn’t wait to once again walk down that gravel path to Downton Abbey. It’s a classic story of a society in transition and the ways progress affects or stifles characters throughout the different classes. Downton’s following were swept up in the romance of the extravagant traditions of the upstairs family and rooted wholeheartedly as the downstairs characters attempted to climb their way out to various success.

In all honesty, the film installment of Downton Abbey served more as a special episode of the show than it did a movie that might make awards moves, but a similar story is already being dubbed one of the year’s best! Imagine if Downton Abbey was set in modern day South Korea and helmed by one of world cinema’s most creative filmmakers. Well, that’s what you get in the genre bending heist-suspense-thriller-horror-political-comedy, Parasite.

Parasite Phone GIF

There are many reasons that Parasite is getting its praise. The movie excels in the major components to any movie: acting, writing, editing, sound, cinematography, etc. What makes it so uniquely special, though, is the vision and voice of its director. It is almost always hard to say what genre Ho is playing with in any given movie, and he often covered several. What’s more important is what he’s trying to say and how he’s using the medium to say it.

Like Downton, Ho often focuses on themes of class, exploitation, and society’s woes. In Snowpiercer, he depicts a future where the survivors of a global freeze are confined to a moving train with each car representing different class positons. In Okja, Ho tells the tale of the daughter of a lower-class farmer who raises and then must protect a genetically engineered future pig. Most would say these are strange movies, but there really is something unique and gripping about Ho’s vision. They manage to be weird without being inaccessible. They manage to have a dark edge but with a light of life. They exist in fictional universes but somehow evoke extremely real feelings. With Parasite, though, he’s doing something a little different. It features characters, a setting, and a premise that’s fairly normal. Yet, in perfect Ho fashion, the film manages to be anything but.

Parasite Jessica Song GIF

Parasite follows one of the downstairs families of South Korea. They live in a subterranean apartment where they fold pizza boxes for grocery money and huddle into the highest corners for just a taste of nearby WiFi. Fortunes change when the son is hired as a tutor by a very upstairs family and from there Ho takes his audience through somewhat of a genre obstacle course. This is just not a film you can stay ahead of. There’s no typical roadmap to follow through its narrative. In the year of our Lord 2019, that is such a rare gift.

What you will feel throughout the film is Ho’s ability to reach into your body and spark a reaction. It’s a visual medium but he orchestrates a sensory experience that you can smell and feel. It’s beyond the visceral feeling of texture and stretches into your involuntary bodily reactions to make you feel what the characters are feeling. At times, I was relaxed and confident. Ten minutes later I was suspicious and nervous. A few seconds pass and I’m breathless and shaking, and as it continues I’m uncontrollably sad.

I was exhausted. Ho wants you to feel what it is like to be those downstairs people trying to climb. It is reminiscent of another incredible film recently released from South Korea, Chang-Dong Lee’s Burning. Both films highlight a younger generation of South Koreans experiencing an ever expanding gap in the classes, and both films do so by focusing on what the lives of the lower class are truly worth. They explore the highs and lows of a life lived at the bottom of the stairs.

Parasite Peach GIF

The downstairs family gets so close to the life of the upstairs family, but it is all an illusion. What is a minor inconvenience to our upstairs characters, alters the life of everyone in the downstairs community. At the peak of their maneuvering to ascend into greater flourishing, the downstairs family feel a small measure of control and power only to have their schemes descend into pure chaos. The upstairs family maintained power the entire time. Our protagonists were only ever one squish or slap away from losing connection to resources and a better life. Thus is the life of a parasite.

*I’d love to say more, but I don’t want to ruin the experience. Snowpiercer, Okja, and Burning are all currently streaming on Netflix and including Parasite should all be watched with viewer discretion as ratings vary. But they should be watched!

The Prequel-Sequel of Hope

Anne Hathaway Interstellar

One by one the staple crops are dying, a dust storm ferociously approaches, a skyscraper sized wave unapologetically crashes forward, time ticks on…so much of Christopher Nolan’s much talked about, scientifically thick space odyssey, “Interstellar,” seems to be communicating that there are forces in this world that cannot be stopped. No matter how hard we try to patch things up and find new solutions to chronic problems, this world as we know it is coming to an end. Throughout the year in film, it seems like today’s storytellers are staring in the face of an unstoppable future. Joon-ho Bong, director of the very fun monster movie “The Host,” also added a possible future into the narrative with his post-apocalyptic ode to the railways, “Snowpiercer.” In this cold, dark look into the lives of what’s left of civilization in the midst of a second ice age surviving aboard a perpetually moving train, Bong sees our destruction of the atmosphere to be our downfall. While we can’t deny that there is something interesting about the near end of humanity that is fun to watch play out, I’ve got to wonder why it is that we have so many ideas on what inevitable demise is in humanity’s future? Why is it so easy to write about the end as if that is where we are already headed? And where does hope hang its hat in this race to the end of the world?

What may be a contributing factor to the current culture of cinema may be the culture itself. We are currently in a media environment that is relying heavily on the origin story and the prequel. I remember when “Titanic” came out and everyone jokingly requested no spoilers but this year alone we saw another prequel in the “Planet of the Apes” franchise and a new installment of back story-retelling-prequel-sequel to the “X-Men” saga. Does the experience watching “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” change knowing that there is no hope for humans and apes to work together in that particular film? We know we are headed to a beach punching Charlton Heston bellowing at a deteriorated Statue of Liberty. We even have another “Terminator” film coming next year and for awhile now this franchise has been dangling a carrot of, “Can we really change the future or not?” in front of its audiences. I’m sure we all have theories of how (I personally do side in the Terminator camp of self-aware technology), but are we locked in to worldwide destruction of some type? Are we meant to survive as a species, and if so, here on Earth? Should we be holding on to this world or not? These are big questions explored in science fiction in “Interstellar,” but practically where can we find comfort in the days to come. How should we be approaching the future?

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The appeal of a giant wave, an encompassing ice age, a new government regime led by apes, etc. is same appeal of a movie like “Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow,” a reset button. Constantly looking for a reset button, though, may be extinguishing hope. We see glimmers of hope in our stories: a new civilization on another planet, the deep snow melting away, Caesar having sympathy for and a relationship with a human, but these still feel like patches to the problems for me. Why? Because they are based on things we can do and if our future rests on our shoulders alone, we will surly fall. Our Old Testament prophets always told tale of intense destruction. “Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth. Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow, making you desolate because of your sins (Micah 6:12, 13).” It was coupled, however, with repentance over self-reliance and a hope that points to the Messiah. “He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love (Micah 7:18).” Some of these stories are right, leaning on our own devices we probably will bring ruin to the world, but leaning on God we are headed for something bigger and brighter. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4).” This should be the narrative we long for, the future we look toward, but to do that we must join in what God is doing in the here and now bringing restoration to this Earth.