Parasite’s Best Picture Win Was Deserved—and Necessary

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Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

An iconic still from 'Parasite.'

Iris Tsouris, Editor

Suffice to say, this iconic photo from the 2020 Academy Awardsof Parasite director Bong Joon-ho on the red carpetpiqued my interest. With his film winning four Oscars (including the all-important ‘Best Picture’ award), Bong is pictured with just two of them in his grasp: like playing dolls, he’s forced their faces together in a ‘Now kiss!’ formation, all while coyly tilting his head and smiling. 

When I first saw the photo, I had yet to see Parasite. Although I was cheering for the film’s success during the Oscars (because an international win in a major awards show is a big step for inclusivity), I didn’t consider myself enough of a film buff to even attend a Parasite viewing. As a sucker for feel-good genres, I was afraid Parasite might be too intellectual or disturbing for me to fully appreciate. 

Needless to say, I was so charmed by Bong and the Parasite cast’s infectious energy while watching the Oscars that I decided to go ahead and see itat the eclectic, arthouse-y Tara Theatre at that. I even forced myself to go in blind, without having read the Wikipedia synopsis beforehandsomething I do for most movies in order to eliminate the anxiety of anticipation. And I’m so glad that I did so because Parasite is maybe one of the most incredible movies that I’ve ever seen, as in I literally left the theatre unable to fathom how Bong could have come up with such a concept. 

In short, the concept is this: an impoverished Korean family, sick of folding pizza boxes for a living, tries to get a ticket to quick wealth (symbolized by a rock throughout the film), by being hired by an extremely wealthy family. The catch: the wealthy family doesn’t realize that the English tutor, art therapist, chauffeur and maid that they have just hired are actually the poor family combining their wages, thus feeding off of their wealth and lavish lifestyle in a con-artist fashionlike parasitic tapeworms. 

Of course, Parasite starts out as a sharp, quick-witted comedy, of which it quickly devolves into a chaotic thriller after the film’s big (and also genius) twist. The second half is anxiety-inducing, gut-wrenching and at times, tragic. Though not a horror movie, it even stars my sleep paralysis demon in a couple of scenes.

Yet what makes Parasite so great is that at first glance, Parasite might just be a movie about class separation. But more so, it’s a film about the dehumanization (and sometimes fetishization) of the lower class. The poor in Parasite are not even parasites: they are never acknowledged, never even coming close to being registered by the rich. In a capitalist society, they are unseen. In an even more muddled take, the word ‘parasite,’ being Greek, can be directly translated as ‘a being that receives sustenance through something else,’ which could also refer to the rich amassing wealth through the labor of others. 

But there is no vehement anti-wealth propaganda either; in Parasite, the wealthy familywith every personal relationship being turned into a capitalistic transactionexperiences a bleak tragedy of sorts as well, though not to the extent of the poor family’s demise. In the end, it all boils down to the idea that wealth seldom equates hard work and that a quick climb up the social ladder often results in a great fall. With such tangible characters, genuine, honest story-telling, and flawless juxtaposition between comedy and thriller, it’s no wonder that Parasite has managed to hit every note for mostbut not all.

As soon as the film’s big Oscar wins were announced, I noticed Twitter’s extremely conservative (dare I say, alt-right?) moguls rushing to denounce it. Conservative personalities, like Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder, were especially vocal about Parasite’s Best Picture win. Some (namely, President Trump) went straight for the fact that Parasite is in Korean, as if that is some sort of crime: an op-ed from The New York Times goes into this more. Others implicitly stated that they had a problem with Parasite’s politicsthat Bong’s film was merely just a polished attempt at virtue signaling, which is publicizing an opinion with intent to claim moral superiority over others. 

But it isn’t virtue signaling. Claiming that is just a quick way to denounce Parasite, which is unfortunately a common theme; being ‘too political,’ even when needed, is simply too much for some people to stomach.  

It is almost as if many felt that Bong was accusing them of something: of wanting to protect their money, opposing welfare problems, or holding capitalist ideals—I don’t know. But that does not give them the excuse to deny that Parasite portrays a truth in Korean society. I would even go so far as to say that it can be applied in an international context as well, which, I believe, is what accounts for its major success at the Oscars.

Nevertheless, the message rings clear: whether we like it or not, the stigma behind international film has yet to be completely absolved, even with progress being made through Parasite’s Oscar wins. But an even greater stigma lies behind the integration of politics in art, as if injecting politics into the mainstream entertainment industry is equivalent to poisoning it.  

Yes, there is a time and place for political discussion, but in this current day and age, movies like Parasite are necessary. And if Parasite could be announced for ‘Best Picture’ in an awards show controlled purely by wealthy and successful individuals, it shows that yes, a film’s merits can be praised (and promoted) without being denounced for being ‘too political.’