When Bong Joon-ho’s sociopolitical thriller Parasite became the first foreign film to win the coveted Best Picture prize at the Academy Awards, many criticised the decision for being a political statement. However, almost nobody can argue against the undeniable cinematic mastery at display in Bong Joon-ho’s latest project.
Parasite is an incisive commentary on the omnipresent divisions of class and the dehumanisation induced by poverty. Through strangely unsettling narrative arcs, Bong Joon-ho manages to present an allegorical masterpiece that tackles the pernicious machinations of capitalism and reminds us of French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s battle cry: “Property is theft!”
In an interview, Bong explained that the source of his artistic sensibilities is a profound misunderstanding: “I think sadness and comedy all come from that misunderstanding, so as an audience member, you feel bad—you want to step up and reconcile them. As a filmmaker, I always try to shoot with sympathy. We don’t have any villains in Parasite, but in the end, with all these misunderstandings, they end up hurting each other.”
Adding, “It’s quite common; you’ll see it pretty frequently in the back alleys of the city. But it’s also tied to the state of the protagonist: Semi-basement means you’re half above the ground, half beneath it. They still want to believe that they’re over ground, but carry this fear that they could fall completely below. It’s that limbo state that reflects their economic status.”
If there are other filmmakers who can recreate the bizarre atmospheric tensions of Parasite, the Safdie brothers would certainly be on that list. Known for their anxiety-inducing thrillers like Good Time and Uncut Gems, the Safdie brothers maintained that Parasite was definitely at the very apotheosis of this sacred cinematic genre.
When asked about the film, Josh Safdie gushed: “I love a movie that can totally pull the rug [from] underneath you.” Benny agreed with his brother, adding that Parasite manages to maintain its terrifying momentum despite moving at a glacial pace: “I had no idea, I was like ‘What’s going on right now?’ It happens very slowly. It’s like a very slow rug pull.”
Josh continued: “There are a couple of sequences in the movie that are [examples] of such rapturous filmmaking and there’s one sequence in particular, the sequence when they’re getting the housekeeper fired that was so funny. That whole film is so vertically integrated and Bong is such an original voice. It’s so refreshing because it doesn’t feel like anything else out there and I love that about his work.”