Poverty has a distinct smell. The poor don’t smell it.
They live with it.
It is a smell that disgusts the rich. Turning the nose up and away or rather a recoil from a STINK, finds its own brilliant plot point in a script that will leave you thinking about class divide with a discomfort that should and must stay. Korean director, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite”, up for six Oscar nominations, deserves each and every award, starting from the script and set design.
This story is about South Korea’s poor Kim family –so poor that they let the outdoor fumigation into their little, cramped home, to kill pests. They make a clever plan to con a wealthy Park family, into giving them jobs. So begins a funny and deliberate, slow setup of how the Kim family work their way into the sprawling Park family mansion, but pretend to be strangers to each other.
The tale of two families and two homes (and eventually a masterstroke of a twist which is like the twist of a knife in the poverty wound) would not make the impact it does, if not for the contemporary and skillful set design. The film starts with a scene that shows us the interior of lowly built house. The staging of each sequence , whether, in the Kim household or the Park mansion, gives us a contrasting glimpse of how each family lives.
Contrast is as ugly as it is beautiful. Contrast of the class structure a deadly theme that is mercilessly pounded upon you with each defining moment. A rich family child’s adventurous night might mean a night inside a fancy tent in his larger, sprawling, beautiful lawn, as the ever protective parents watch over him, from the glass walls of their beautiful, interiors. The same night might mean a torturous nightmare, for someone locked up somewhere in the depths of poverty—literally and figuratively, and a heavily stressful hide and seek game for some hiding under a table.
The entire story is shot in contrasts, drumming in endlessly the vast disparity between the classes. If the Kim family lives in a house that is a kind of semi basement, the rich live literally up and above a certain ground level, led by a staircase, into bright sunlight. Which leads to the contrast of light used in the stunning cinematography. Every time the Kim family is in trouble, they are seen going down a long staircase, whether it is inside the Park household or towards their own house. A most unforgettable wide shot, shows the family running in the rain, dripping wet, down a long, winding stairway. The camera is static for a few seconds. The frame is dark grey. That stairway clearly leads to hell. The hell is flooded with not just water, but grief, desperation, the ensuing struggle to survive-- needs to be, deserves to be, demands to be seen in all its horror.
Irony crops up in the minutest details which again are a part of the way the house is designed. When you see the rich Mr Park walk up his stairs, the path is gradually lit up with lights, there is a (very dark) reason behind it. And of course, Mr Park is blissfully ignorant of this, again denoting how the rich choose to ignore the cause of their own elevation in life. The tone here is at once hilarious as it is horrifying.
Most of the time, we observe the rich from the eyes of the poor. “Rich people are naïve. No resentments. No creases on them, ” says the poor husband.
“It all get ironed out. Money is an iron,” replies the wife philosophically.
There is a montage sequence which takes storytelling to another level through simply the shots and the edit. There is a distinct rhythm here, starting from a cheerful , funny note and moving to a crescendo. The five minute sequence comes right in the beginning, adding tempo to the story and more importantly, introducing us to a very important character in the film- the housekeeper of the Park family; with an opera piece playing in the background. Needless to say, the montage ends in a dramatic climax of its own.
Every frame, every shot, every expression, every sound, every dialogue and every prop including a cleverly placed knicker or a peach skin or an expensive and exquisite piece of rock---each is a work of finely detailed craft. The rock finds its own journey, along with the main protagonist receiving it, claiming it to be “metaphorical”. Indeed, that rock stands for his desire and aspiration.
‘Parasite’ is not a horror movie. But it is seriously scary as is the question posed; in today’s capitalist world, who is the parasite? The rich? The poor? Or both?
The end when it comes, takes you in a trance before it hits you. Again, the most compelling contrast ever.