Parasite is the most intense experience I’ve had in a movie theater in years, and after it ended, I had two strong and competing desires: to discuss it with everyone else who’d seen it, and to shut my mouth and protect anyone who hadn’t. Not that simple words could spoil the movie’s completely singular mix of comedy, horror, suspense, and social commentary, but if I had the luxury of going in blind and being surprised by every single beat, I figured so should everyone else. (I still do. If you haven’t seen Parasite, stop reading right now and get it done.)
There were a lot of good movies last year. But Parasite is the one I find myself still wanting to talk about, the only one that managed to thrill me in the theater and then haunt me for weeks after. (Well, it and Cats, but that’s a whole other thing.) And when I do talk with other people who’ve seen Bong Joon-Ho’s mad masterpiece, we cover a lot of the same ground: how the Kim family so often occupied the same frame while the wealthy Parks are rarely even in the same room; how poor Ki-woo is never going to buy that house and how on some level even he knows it; how to the rich, poverty has its own unique smell; whether steak ram-don actually exists and where we can get some. But Parasite told me more– about the growing gap between rich and poor, about what happens when we dehumanize each other, about where we put our attention and whose suffering we’re ignoring– than anything else last year, via three plot points I can’t get out of my head. I’ve still got three big questions about the year’s best and scariest movie, and thinking about them all at once, even now…well, I am shook.
What the hell happened to Moon-gwang’s face? A surprise middle-of-the-rainy-night reappearance from the Park family’s banished housekeeper (Lee Jung-eun, robbed of a Best Supporting Actress nomination) breaks up the Kims’ drunken house party and sends us sprinting into Parasite’s second act, into the basement, into a whole new movie. But we breeze right past an important detail: Moon-gwang’s face has been battered. She has a split lip and a contusion by her right eye. Only her husband asks about it, and she promises to explain later. In the moment, while we’re still processing all the new information the movie has given us, we might chalk it up to her peach-fuzz allergy. But at the time of her termination, her face is untouched. When she shows back up at the house to feed her cellar-bound husband (after days? A week?) her wounds are fresh. Moon-gwang has been beaten. When Mrs. Park quietly sends her housekeeper away—an employee who she believes to have tuberculosis—whether she knows it or not, she has banished her to homelessness, to violence, to a life even more precarious than the Kims’. Parasite alludes to an erosion of the South Korean middle class, but here Bong quietly makes it clear: Moon-gwang has gone from the Park’s house directly to the streets, because for her, for too many, there is nothing in between. Increasingly, for those of us watching from the United States, there isn’t either.
So Min just kind of peaced out, huh? Throughout the movie’s denouement, I kept expecting a return visit from Ki-woo’s old friend Min-hyuk, the guy who hooked him up with the tutoring gig at the Park house. Surely he’d want to check in on his old girlfriend Da-hye, apologize to her mother Yeon-gyo for setting all these horrific events in motion, visit Ki-woo in the hospital and say “Hey, man: what was that all about?” But he’s missing completely, and Bong is too meticulous a screenwriter to leave that thread hanging for no reason. So what happened? Is a college education a ticket out of poverty, or is it a rocket into a world of apathy and privilege? Does he know what happened to his former employers and ex-girlfriend? Does he care? Or has he already become as thoughtless, as self-involved as Mr. and Mrs. Park?
Wait, did that kid die? At the end of Parasite, the only person left unaccounted for is the only pure soul in the whole film: Da-song, the young son of the Parks. We are told twice in the movie that if he has a seizure, he needs to be taken to a hospital within 30 minutes. But as he convulses during the gruesome climactic party scene, there is nobody to drive him there: his father has been stabbed to death, his mother is unconscious from shock, driver Ki-taek has vanished into the basement, and all the other party guests have run for the hills. The poor, sweet boy seems to be doomed. At the end of a film about corruption, in asking us to care about Ki-woo and Ki-taek (a con man and a murderer) rather than Da-song (the only one in the Park family who even bothered to keep in touch with Moon-gwang, let’s not forget), Bong implicates the viewer. The wealthy may not care for the poor, but by the end of Parasite, we come to view the rich the same way the Kim family does at the start: as subhuman, unworthy of our care and attention, good only because they have wealth. Even an innocent child. Like a bad smell, the guilt has been hard to scrub off.
A world in which there is no middle ground between comfort and danger. A culture with a vast and growing chasm between the rich and the poor. A tug-of-war between two corrupt groups of people while the suffering of innocent children goes completely ignored. Imagine living in a world like that! Parasite thrilled me for two hours, showed me more about real life in 2019 than anything else I saw that year, and stayed in the back of my mind ever since, like a great film should. I can’t imagine a better choice for Best Picture.