My mission as a film critic is to get people to watch more and better movies. For the Never Seen It column, I watch a classic film with an interesting Memphian who missed it the first time around. Julia Baker is the person who runs the We Recommend section here at the Memphis Flyer. She was so busy recommending stuff to the Bluff City, she missed Bong June Ho's Palme d'Or and Best Picture winner. From quarantine in our respective homes, we watched Parasite together.
Chris McCoy: Tell me what you know about Parasite.
Julia Baker: Before you came to me about watching this with you, I didn't know much. I knew it was a Korean film, and that it did really well last year. It won a bunch of awards and everybody was talking about it. But for some reason, maybe because of the name, I thought it was a horror movie. Like, up until like a few minutes ago. When I read the description online, I found out that it's, I guess, a comedy plus a thriller.
CM: I think it's all of those things.
JB: Okay, so I wasn't too far off.
CM: Anyway, just open your mind, because it's weird.
Nothing can wrong at this beautiful birthday party!
132 minutes later...
Chris McCoy: You, Julia Baker, are now a person who's seen Parasite. What did you think?
Julia Baker: I had this realization, kind of in the plateau, where the man who's been living in the basement was chasing the son, and the son didn't think to pull off the neck wire. It kind of reminded me of a Korean version of Knives Out, with how ridiculous it was.
CM: I can see that. I hadn't really thought of it in in those kind of terms. But the plot’s all twisty, and everybody's out to get everybody.
JB: It was called Parasite, not only because the poor family members conning them were parasites, but also the man living in the basement and his wife, the old housekeeper, they were parasites, too. They were kind of feeding off that rich family.
CM: But then, also, the rich people are parasites as well. That's the classic communist propaganda line — the rich are parasites on the working class. The rich people are feeding off of the misery of all the poor people.
JB: That sounds like a symbiotic relationship
Park So-dam and Choi Woo-shik search for free wifi in the bathroom of their basement apartment.
CM: Basically. I think the title has layers of meaning in it. Because you're right, they're all parasites. The guy in the basement is the parasite off of the rich family. But you know it also goes the other way around, too. Why is this guy so desperate that he has to live in the basement? Why does he think this is a good existence?
JB: Better than getting attacked by his creditors, I guess. Interesting. Then, right before everything went down, you see the landscape rock sinking in the water. I thought that was interesting. I'm guessing this was on purpose, but you know you see you notice that the guy in the basement is doing Morse code with the lights on the stairwell And then they [The Kim family] go back to their basement apartment, and their lights are flickering. I'd like to know if the lights actually say something.
CM: I noticed that this time too, because it's a visual echo. It's so striking And then the little boy signals his parents with light in that same room. You know, he shined a light at them when he's outside in the teepee, and they’re inside watching him.
CM: So, was it what you had expected?
JB: Um, no. Like I told you earlier, I just thought Parasite sounded like a horror movie. I was expecting some kind of parasitic monsters to coming crawling out of the basement. I definitely didn't expect it to be kind of more on the thriller side, and kind of clever.
CM: Did it feel like a horror movie at any point to you?
JB: Yeah, when they have the the sex scene in front of the whole family. That was kind of horrific … When I think of horror, I think of ghosts and monsters and things like that. But in this movie, the people were the monsters.
CM: You know, when the kid sees the guy in the basement, he thinks he's a ghost. I love that shot of the man just peeking the top of his head above the stairway. And I noticed this time that when she starts to tell the story, the birthday cake appears is in the room. There’s not a clear cut between, this is the present, and this is the flash-back. The past kind of creeps in. It’s not exactly uncomfortable to watch, but it's like he's always just on the border, making you feel not at ease.
JB: I guess he somehow knew when the when the husband came into the house and was walking up the stairwell, so he would turn the lights on for him?
CM: Yes, exactly. You assume it's some sort of automatic system, but actually it's just invisible labor. There’s this guy who's taking it as his job to to greet the master of the house whenever he comes. He kind of worships Mister Park.
JB: Yeah, I know! He absolutely worships him!
The Kim family tries to eek out a living folding pizza boxes.
CM: How did it feel watching this movie in this particular moment?
JB: I didn't think about it that way, but that that is an interesting way of looking at it. We're not completely locked in like the main in the basement, but being in quarantine, we almost feel like that … locked in. We can go outside, and I guess he gets to go outside sometimes, too. But you know, it is kind of similar.
CM: I really felt that this time. The whole bit with the TB, how they get the old housekeeper fired by claiming she's diseased, wow, that lands completely differently.
The Kim family yukking it up as they hijack the Park family home.
CM: So, did you like it?
JB: I did! I like it when movies can kind of incorporate comedy with a level of seriousness. And I feel like that's kind of where movies are going these days. You can see it with the superhero films. They used to be so serious, and now they have humor in them. It just makes it more interesting.
CM: If a movie is all one emotion anymore, it really gets me down. I love a story that's going to like have ups and downs, and filmmakers who have the ability to make you feel all kinds of different emotions. I think all too often, young filmmakers get really focused on, like, I'm going to have one emotion, and it's going to be really intense through the whole thing. I think being able to modulate, to fine-tune your mood like Bong Joon Ho does in Parasite is the sign of a true master.
Jung Hyeon-jun as Park Da-song
JB: It kind of got you comfortable. I think probably three quarters of the movie was comedy. There's a level of seriousness, but it was more comedy than anything. Then it got really serious. It kind of got your attention and got you laughing, then got you wrapped up in it. You got to understand all of the characters, where they were coming from. Although I kind of got to where I hated the rich family, Because the guy turned up his nose to the poor people, and it was all kinds of wrong to bring in the Native American thing. They're just pretty much insensitive to everybody around them who's not in their immediate family.
CM: And that's what that's what drives Mr. Kim over the edge at the end. He's trying to save his daughter's life, and the rich guy only wants his car keys.