The Academy Awards are looming right around the corner, so upon receiving the "Best Picture " shortlist, I only saw fit that I'd give each and every one of the nominated films their deserved watch. Up until this past week, I had seen all but one of the highly acclaimed pictures being honored at this years Oscars - and truthfully, I had made up my mind on the two films that I believed to be just a cut above the rest, Quentin Tarantino's ode to Hollywood's golden age in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Sam Mendes's gripping single-shot chronicle in 1917.
Then I watched Parasite.
I now have my winner.
How can I begin to illustrate the conceptual genius of Bong Joon Ho, the film's director? I guess the best way to set the stage for my synopsis would be to provide a bit of a summary for his Korean masterpiece:
Parasite follows an unlikely relationship between two families that are situated as far away from each-other on the socio-economic spectrum. The Kim family resides in a semi-basement falling apart at the seams, each family member works low-paying odd jobs to make ends meet with whatever income they can muster. The Park family lives a lavish, worry-free lifestyle as Korean elites in the hills of the same city, amassing their fortune as owners of a tech-company. An opportunity arises in the form of an English Tutor for the college-bound daughter of the Park family, and through a series of unlikely connections, Ki-Woo, a member of the poverty-striken Kim family is given the job. Gradually, the Kim family interlace themselves into the daily lives of a family that could not be more financially different than them, essentially planting themselves into the world of the Parks without their knowledge - like a Parasite.
I'll stop there in the fair interest of spoilers, but allow me to say this: my summary doesn't begin to capture the unbelievable story that unfolds in front of the viewers eyes - Parasite is nothing short of a cinematic triumph in the realm of foreign filmmaking. I have a couple reasons for this statement:
For starters, Bong Joon Ho's social commentary is so meticulously plotted it's marveling. Every character, setting, scenario and outcome is crafted in a manner that calls upon issues such as the previously mentioned class warfare, looming climate change effects and brutally complex family dynamics. You could truly watch this film 10 times over, yet still find yourself in awe at a new discovery that has burrowed itself into the cruel, unforgiving world that Bong Joon Ho establishes over the course of a couple of hours.
The story doesn't necessarily rely on the perils of individual characters. Instead, it brilliantly uses a web of ever-changing relationships and intentionally placed set-designs as a catalyst for the films overt storyline, as well as its numerous examples of subtext.
The recurring theme that I harp perilously over throughout Parasite is the continual use of staircases.
That's right, staircases.
The film's most jarring scenes all have a set of stairs, or a general ascension placed tightly into said scene - and for brilliant reason. Bong Joon Ho takes the literal use of a staircases; winding ones, simple ones, long ones, short ones - and provides a mesmerizing metaphor to it: from start to finish, each and every character is navigating life in a vertical fashion, aggressively trying to rise up financially, or avoid plummeting into the inevitable darkness that looms mentally. The beautiful emphasis on Korean architecture on two different ends of the economic spectrum is a sight to behold, yet the layers that are imposed are mind-blowingly sinister.
One of the positives of Parasite is it's mysterious nature. There are times in this film where you don't really know what's going on, and then suddenly it hits you with a full rush of power straight to the face.
Damnit. Ok, I have to stop and talk about this. I wasn't originally planning on speaking about it, but there's this scene. It's hard to describe in detail without giving away anything, but in just a few seconds, it digs its way into your brain and establishes itself as the metaphorical center of the film like a parasite.
There's this point in the film where the Park family son (assumedly 8 or 9 years old) is playing with his toys on the floor of their modern, beautiful home late at night. He turns to look towards the basement opening, and the sound cuts out. Without much buildup or suspense, a man emerges up the staircase, but only reveals the top of his head.
Then you see his eyes - and it cuts away. I can't put into words how terrifying his eyes are. This really isn't a horror film, but this 6 or 7 second scene feels so real - it's disturbingly obvious that what's going on in this film is far more terrifying than anything a horror movie could impose on the soul. That's part of what makes Parasite such a work of art. The trailer for the film markets it as a foreign film with humorous and scary overtones, but that simply doesn't do it justice.
Parasite is a movie about real life, and the bounds that people in poverty-stricken circumstances will go to etch themselves into the fabric of wealth, while simultaneously going in-depth on how sheltered, unaware and often evil the advantages of money can make someone.
It's like a flat circle... or a spiral staircase, if you will.
From the moment the curtains open, Bong Joon Ho plants a parasite into the audiences head, a parasite that twists and turns and digs itself into your psychoanalysis of the film. You want to love each character, then the next moment, you'd love nothing more than for them to fall down... well... a staircase.
I don't know whose going to win Best Picture at this years Oscars, but there's one thing that I know for certain: Parasite has my vote. There's been no film in my recent memory that captures the violent ups and downs of family and money quite like Parasite - while remaining so gut-wrenchingly true-to-reality.
It's a shame that the Academy felt as though no actor/actress in Parasite deserved a nod for an individual award, but if Bong Joon Ho walks away with this years "Best Picture" prize, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest. Each performance in the film acts as a pawn in the grander scheme of things, an unavoidable finale that shocks viewers, but feels justified in a way. The set design, the dialogue and the winding plot all make for what is UNDOUBTABLY the best foreign film I have ever seen in my life - a claim that I could honestly see myself taking to the grave. It's that good.
The film's title, Parasite, couldn't be more perfect, because I've failed to stop thinking about this movie since the second the credits began rolling.
I just can't get it out of my head, I really can't.