The less you know about “Parasite,” a treat of a flick from Bong Joon Ho, the better.
One of the best things about the trailer is that it gives a taste of the film’s tone, but very little about what it’s about.
Here’s what I can say that won’t spoil it for you. The film is about a rich family and a poor family, and how their lives intersect. The results are hilarious, disturbing, sad, human, and effectively push a message of something that rhymes with schmanticapitalism.
Yes, “Parasite,” is a message film, which, when used to describe films I’ve yet to see, can give me a sinking feeling. Movies laden with message and moral weight can lack the glee and inventiveness that makes film exciting, or even the basic qualities that make them worth watching.
Sometimes a message movie will be inventive, but will decide an effective moral is more important than having sensical characters, which is how we get righteously entertaining but somewhat incoherent films like “Sorry to Bother You.” Sometimes they get so focused on message that they forget about pacing, like “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”
Sometimes they will have a couple different messages brewing but won’t be confident enough in their own filmmaking, so someone spews them all in a preachy speech that’s inconsistent with everything we know of the character delivering it, like in “Joker.”
But then sometimes we get the truly special message films. The ones that lace their messages with moral ambiguity, and create believable characters for us to empathize with, and bring their stories to life with creative audiovisual maneuvers. A movie like “Do the Right Thing,” Spike Lee’s classic that balanced a message on racial tension with memorable characters, haunting imagery, stylishly effective cinematography, and a brutally unforgettable story.
“Parasite” is like “Do the Right Thing,” in that it’s a message film that’s arguably flawless on a formal level. The story is tense and the camera treats it that way. Often, the camera will swivel from one character to another rather than cut back and forth, enforcing an urgency that holds your attention. That combined with video and sound editing (and remarkable score) creates a high-strung emotional pace that lasts the entire film. Like “Do the Right Thing,” “Parasite” is not a film that lets you off the hook, but it also lets you have fun along the way.
“Parasite” is funny (though it’s also scary and sad). It’s not too much of a spoiler to say the plot involves an elaborate ruse, which as a rule, I usually find unfunny. If someone else on screen is in on it, I’m usually not laughing. But the performances of the film, particularly that of Yeo-jeong Jo — every performance is stellar here, but I just feel like talking about this one — as the rich and gullible mother of the Park family, make the emotions and choices of the victims so believable that the realness of it becomes hilarious. They are funny because they are so ridiculous yet so reasonable.
Obviously, I’m dancing around telling you a lot, because I want you to experience the story for yourself. On the other hand, maybe spoilers don’t matter because I’ve seen it twice now, and have been completely wrapped up both times. (You know that thing when you’re in a movie and like 15 minutes in you go, ‘Oh, right, I’m at a movie. There’s my friend next to me, there’s the exit sign, etc.’ That doesn’t happen with this one.) The film is tense and extreme, but I love to spend time with it. The characters are deeply flawed, but also admirable. They are not saints, but they don’t feel like villains either. None of their actions feel inorganic. For me, this movie has no “why would they do that?” moments.
Thanks to the sad relevance of its commentary, “Parasite” is a movie for now, but I’m not sure it ever won’t be. It’s a film about class and capitalism, without a doubt. But it takes its philosophy and infuses it with a gripping story with characters that feel real.
Like most great satires, what sticks with you is not the mad things people do, but that you understand why.