Are we all faking it?
After the Academy’s surprisingly well-judged crowning of Parasite as Best Picture (a major step up from Green Book), the film has fueled interesting conversations on social media, along with some silly arguments.
Parasite’s message isn’t particularly subtle; the meaning is right there in the title, yet some seem to be misinterpreting the story as a condemnation of the working class, rather than an anti-capitalist narrative that depicts the wealthy as parasitic, and the working class as, quite literally, struggling to keep their heads above water.
Parasite tells the story of a poverty-stricken family, the Kims, who cunningly place themselves in the service of the Parks, an obscenely wealthy household who have been unknowingly harboring a stranger in their basement for years.
The basement-dwellers could be easily viewed as parasitic, along with the Kims; the two families rely on the Parks for income, food and shelter, and enter their house deceptively, aggressively competing with each other.
Parasite outlines how the working class are forced into conflict against one another, fighting for scraps, while families like the Parks live a comfortable life, fueled by the labor of the many individuals working beneath them.
The Parks are not depicted as villains, but in their naivety and casual entitlement, their parasitic nature is laid bare. The rainstorm that floods the Kim’s house with sewage, followed by the extravagant birthday party for a spoiled child, being raised to believe he is an artist (while being taught by a genuinely talented artist) clearly illustrates the imbalance.
That’s a surface reading of the film, one outlined by director Bong Joon-ho, and shouldn’t really be a point of contention:
“Because the story is about the poor family infiltrating and creeping into the rich house, it seems very obvious that Parasite refers to the poor family, and I think that’s why the marketing team was a little hesitant. But if you look at it the other way, you can say that rich family, they’re also parasites in terms of labor. They can’t even wash dishes, they can’t drive themselves, so they leech off the poor family’s labor. So both are parasites.”
I’d like to offer my personal interpretation; to me, Parasite was a story about imposter syndrome.
Brutally highlighted in the closing scene, it’s heartbreakingly clear that Ki-woo is never, ever going to be able to afford the house his father is trapped in. This isn’t due to his lack of talent or intelligence; after all, he and his sister Ki-jeong managed to perfectly orchestrate a devious plan, running in circles around a man boasting an excessive income. It’s simply because he wasn’t born into the right family.
Ki-woo and Ki-jeong were able to secure their tutoring positions solely due to a recommendation, rather than their forged documents. In the inner circles of the wealthy (and outside), connections are often more important than ability, and qualifications.
Ki-jeong might have been lying about her art therapy, but the child she was tutoring didn’t even need therapy; he was just some entitled kid, playing up his quirky personality for his parents, likely destined for a career in the art world regardless, cushioned by the wealth and influence of his parents.
Meanwhile, Ki-jeong, a gifted artist (and forger), starts the film living in a derelict basement and winds up dead, her talent attracting nothing but misfortune. The big deception of the story was the hiring of the family, yet none were technically unqualified for their positions. Much of the tension stems from the fact that the Kims do not belong, and yet, they do; they just happened to find an unorthodox entry point.
This theme is underlined when Ki-woo is in the hospital, and he can’t help but laugh at the sight of his doctor and the detective questioning him. While the doctor chalks his laughter up to brain damage, Ki-woo seems to be laughing at the absurdity of it all, the stark divisions between class and profession revealed as an illusion.
In his inner monologue, Ki-woo mentions that neither the doctor or detective look suited to their positions, and the detective’s childish uncertainty hints that perhaps he really is out of his depth. The absurdity of society, the myth of the meritocracy, have been laid bare to Ki-woo; perhaps everyone is faking it, to a certain extent, just as he and his family once did.
The film seems to be questioning the notion of education, intelligence and determination providing class mobility. Is success truly organic, or is it mostly due to the circumstances of one’s birth? Some of the best scenes in the film show the Kim’s barely concealing their deception, keeping it together in front of the eternally obvious Parks.
I think these scenes highlight something that many of us feel, that the world is filled with people (especially those that hold powerful positions of authority), that simply aren’t “qualified” for their role.
At least we can agree that Bong Joon-ho is not one of those people.