by Alvin G. Burstein
Parasite, a South Korean film, premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first South Korean film to win the Palme d’Or. It went on to win four awards at the 92nd Academy Awards (the Oscars), winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film—the first non-English film to win the Best Picture award. Subtitles make it accessible world-wide.
It is a piece of work, hard to describe. A mashup of Beverly Hillbillies, Tobacco Road, and Upstairs/Downstairs. Slapstick humor, teenage romance, gore splatter and trenchant social commentary dazzle.
The title? There are at least three levels of parasitic involvement. The husband of the housekeeper of an elite, sumptuous mansion’s has been hiding from creditors for years in a bunker hidden deep under the house, living on food stolen with his wife’s complicity.
New owners, a couple, their teenage daughter and hyper-active four year old son, are losing the daughter’s college student prepping her for college entrance exams. The tutor persuades an old friend, the son of a dirt-poor, hard-scrabble family to take his gig, using fake credentials.
The new tutor, learning how gullible the rich and naïve parents are, embarks on a scheme to have his sister, pretending to be an art therapist, work with the owner’s son. Hiding their identities, the two conspire to have their parents usurp the roles of the rich family’s chauffeur and housekeeper.
The poor family pretend to be unrelated, and using fictitious credentials, rake in lots of money. The parasites are on easy street.
It is an obvious irony that the wealthy family can be seen as parasitic too. Their way of life depends on the labor of the less fortunate.
When the wealthy family leaves for a weekend at the seashore to celebrate the birthday of the young son, the imposters take over the house, freely feasting on the up-scale goodies that surround them.
Their revelry is interrupted by a visit from the former housekeeper, who persuades them to let her go to the basement for something she has forgotten. They admit her,
and sneaking after her, discover her husband. A battle royal ensues, with fights over a cellphone recording that reveals the interlopers’ scheme. Blood flows freely. The original housekeeper and her husband, badly injured, are left hidden in the basement.
The owners return unexpectedly because of flooding rains, but the interlopers manage to conceal themselves. The mother, in her housekeeper role, remains at their home, while the father and two children sneak out of the mansion, returning to their slum dwelling, only to find it flooded and uninhabitable.
The wealthy family plans a spontaneous, but elaborate birthday party the next day, making a point of inviting the supposed chauffeur the tutor and the art therapist to attend.
The climax of the party is a melee. The original housekeeper’s husband escapes from the basement bunker, stabs the pretended art therapist to death as she presents her student with a birthday cake, and is in turn killed by the supposed housekeeper. The replacement chauffeur kills the wealthy husband but manages to escape to the hidden bunker, taking the place of the original parasite.
In the aftermath, the poor family’s mother and her son are convicted of murder and sentenced to jail. He requires brain surgery to deal with the injuries he received during the melee.
When he is discharged, he learns that the mansion has a new owner and that his father is still hiding in the concealed bunker—doing well as a parasite. He makes plans— unrealistic ones—to make a lot of money and re-unite his family by becoming the owner of the mansion.
It is quite a movie. Did I say “Slap stick humor, teenage romance, gore splatter and trenchant social commentary dazzle?” They really do.