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What Parasite teaches us about the poverty gap

parasite

 In case you have not been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you surely must have heard of the movie Parasite. This Korean movie, directed by Bong Joon-Ho (famous from Okja (2017) and Snowpiercer (2013), among others) has been making the rounds for being the first Korean language film to win a Palm d’Or at the Cannes film festival, winning a Golden Globe and being nominated for six Oscars. The film has been met with so much praise that rumor has it that the film received a stunning 8 minute long standing ovation only cut short by director Bong, who later admitted he was really hungry at that time when he said: ‘Thank you, now let’s go home.’

What is it exactly that makes this movie so special? Except for its stunning camerawork, Parasite tells us a story that is almost as timeless as it is universal: The one about the gap between the rich and the poor. While most of us don’t really live in one extreme or the other (although we as students might relate more to the poor), Parasite does a great job of showing us this issue without blaming either of the parties. So how does Parasite do it? Let me break down the story for you.

The story
The film starts us off with the Kim family. The Kim family is a poverty-ridden family living in a half basement. Symbolically so, as a half-basement signifies that not all hope is lost: It is not yet completely underground. The Kims try to do anything to get a little bit of extra money (including taking up a part-time pizza box folding gig), but luck is just not on their side. Not until their eldest son, Ki-Woo gets an offer he can not refuse from his close friend Min: To tutor the daughter of the elite Park family.

The Parks are everything the Kims are not: First off, they live in a house on top of the hill. Way different from the Kims who literally almost live underground. Second of all, they don’t have to worry about anything, which makes them quite naïve and trusting of anything happening around them. It is this naivety that Ki- Woo successfully manages to exploit and this is how he manages to get all the workers in the Parks’ house replaced with members of the Kim family. It is this employment that gives the movie its name, ‘Parasite,’ as the Kims slowly infiltrate the house and contaminate it in much the same way a parasite benefits from living on or even in its host. 

Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films

What follows is a movie that increasingly shows us how far apart the Parks and the Kims are from each other. The repercussions? I will refrain from spoiling the ending for you, but I highly recommend you to go see it for yourself. 

Is it fair?
There are several aspects of this movie that get lost in translation and/or culture. Think, for example, a scene in which Ki- Woo (played by Choi Woo-shik) teaches his father (played by veteran actor Song Kang-ho) how he should act, a scene which director Bong later explained to us to a Korean audience would be like Tom Holland teaching Robert de Niro how to act. Still, the message the film sends us is a haunting yet relatable one: Neither side of the poverty gap is evil or at fault of the big gap between their way of living. It is precisely this kind of depiction of everyday life that makes us question: Is it fair that either of these people live this way? What decides who gets to live a life in poverty and who in abundance? And what is it that we, people somewhere steadily in the middle class, can do to make life more balanced in both directions?

1-inch tall barrier
This movie left me with more questions than I can answer. The clear lack of a villain in the movie makes it easy to empathize with both sides of the coin and a surprise turn in the movie leaves you questioning absolutely everything you saw. Parasite is a movie worth watching not only due to its amazing story and camerawork, but due to its status as a film that breaks down boundaries: It is not often that a foreign language film is met with such enthusiasm and praise, but in a day and age where subtitles are so easily available, there is no excuse to not indulge in amazing foreign language films. Director Bong himself put it best: ‘ Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.’.

Cover: IMDB

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Kristina Arnaudova
Kristina (20) is a Bulgarian immigrant who has spend a majority of her life in the Netherlands. Growing up between two cultures has led to a life long fascination with the effects of language and culture. Through writing, she hopes to make sense of the countless observations and mindless ideas which pop up into her head every so often.

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