Parasite in your limits

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Roberto Noritomi*

NIt is not enough to pack a critical theme in a conventional guise to obtain a radical critical result. The film Parasite, by protecting the viewer and restricting its scope of meaning, ends up dissipating any spark of change.

Parasite offered itself to the market at a high face value. Directed by Korean Joon-ho Bong, the film emerged as the last cry of radical conscience in various progressive circles and the most extreme left, inside and outside the country. It sailed on the wave of other films equally well received by these circles, such as Joker e Bacurau.

It was inevitable that he would receive such a positive and euphoric welcome. The moment and its material provided fertile ground. The film has the explicit intention of dealing, without halftones, with the issue of inequality and tension between classes. The director had already done it in science fiction The Train of Tomorrow (2013), but this time the focus was turned to the immediate daily life and the social references are incisively closer to the present, backed by the latest in the dismantling of the neoliberal steamroller, which Brazil and the world have been experiencing in the skin .

Joon-ho Bong sought to build a story of intense visual and symbolic impact. For that, he did not contain his arsenal of blunt signs and other resources of realistic appeal, within a mixture of genres that are in line with current taste and that he does with competence. He portrayed South Korean families living in conditions of absurd social disparity and based on this base, he created his scheme of class relations, permeated by humiliation and indifference. With this boiling material in sight, he soon sounded the siren song to the ears of social critics, who revered him and paid little attention to the formal conclusion.

The fever of interpretations pulled all sorts of approaches out of the hat, notably those of a political nature. Many astute analysts have found direct correspondence between the diegetic material and South Korea's economic events, inequality, and sociodemographic statistics, pointing emphatically to the film's documentary fidelity and realism. Others, more fruitful, bet on the allegorical character and glimpsed the contradictions of global capitalism, financial parasitism, class struggle in the context of precarious work, the parallelism between Korea and Brazil, etc. Sociological compendiums and anti-capitalist libels were inferred from the film and it became a breath of optimism against the reigning barbarism.

It cannot be said that the readings were excessive or illegitimate. At the very least, they were useful in nurturing a relevant social debate. However, in order not to lose the work and remain solely with what it inspires, it is necessary to make some notes about what is effectively formalized in its making, after all, this will allow verifying whether the radical political position that it is attributed corresponds to its background aesthetic value (and in this way politics is also done).

First of all, the prime formal option in Parasite It's genre cinema. This is the activity by Joon-ho Bong. There is a modulation of genres that alternate and intertwine, with suspense as the axis. The opening sequence, in the semi-basement where the Kim family is presented, follows a comic rhythm, with the camera lowering from street level into the semi-basement. The soundtrack provides a rhythm of morning frugality. Suspense is subtly established as young Ki Woo goes up to the interview at the Park family home.

The tonic of the trail changes with the presence of the housekeeper. Something begins to hover in the air, accentuated by the wide and geometric spaces, by the silence interspersed with the electronic ringing that blends in with the bell and by the camera shot from a distance and with depth of field. A crescendo of expectations ensues as each member of the Kim family unwinds the charade and becomes involved with the Parks.

This suspenseful tempo undergoes a kind of intermission when the Kim family takes advantage of the Parks' trip to enjoy themselves in the immense living room of the Parks' house. It is a “reflective” interregnum with a dramatic echo. Then, suddenly, the suspense erupts as it should, with the reappearance of the former governess (as if coming from the darkness). The dread and suspense go to the last.

The basement and Mr. Geun-Se come to light and the suspense is soon unleashed in a slapstick clash already in the domain of black humor. From there unfolds the drama, which is impeccably accentuated on the descent under the torrential rain to the flooded semi-basement. Once the crisis is stabilized, the comic progress is resumed, punctuated by grief. The dramatic-suspensive peak culminates in the burlesque and bloody conflict. In the epilogue, we enter the comic-dramatic movement that restores the initial situation, now under resignation, with the same camera shot descending from street level.

This soft modulation of the genres dehydrates the suspensive effect and stops the cathartic arc, but the spectator remains in the narrative yoke and subjected to emotional manipulation, which is privileged. The critical social data – poverty, inequality and menial work – ends up being diluted in the formulas of identification and conditioning to the rhythm of the plot. There are no bumps or edges that subvert language conventions and allow sensory and intellectual disturbance in the face of what is narrated.

Evidently, the formal option adopted wanted to avoid risks, even though I believed it was daring. Keeping himself in the safe zone of his previous productions, the director sought to anchor himself in the precepts of “good cinematic narrative” and leaned on the beacons of the genres. To structure this purpose, a linear, transparent and fluid narrative was sought. The clean decoupage and the rigorous script served to calmly lead the viewer through the emotional torsions and into a comfortable path, protected from bumps. There is no way to get lost along the way.

From beginning to end, the elements were arranged on the scene exactly to build a well-trimmed and conclusive sense. The opening and closing scenes are clear about this: it begins in the morning, with the summer sun shining through the window, while the ending takes place with a similar camera shot, but now showing the winter night with the snow outside. from the window. It's all self-explanatory and emotionally simple. Even though the substance is heavy and indigestible, the product arrives palatable and ready for consumption. This explains the large audience and favorable reception by critics, festivals and intellectuals in general.

From this perspective, what is remarkable is the technical care with which the sequences were assembled. Each of them has a dramatic-spatial unity that absorbs all the meaning and skilfully designates the next step without hesitation or dubiousness. In the composition of the scene, the lighting, the marking of actors and the camera shot are millimetric and leave no gap for the gaze to escape. Whether in the tiny room cluttered with knick-knacks, or in the spacious lounge with minimalist furniture, what is open to the eye are only the indispensable items for what one wants to signify. Even natural phenomena (sun, rain, thunder, etc.) obey this control.

In an arrangement with such a disciplined network of meanings, it is worth highlighting the presence of metaphors as a narrative resource. They are so recurrent that the character of the young Ki Woo, in a kind of metalinguistic reminder (as if it were necessary!), tersely states: “everything is so metaphorical”. This is how, in practically every scene, metaphorical figurations parade whose role, in the rigid scheme, is to significantly guide the course of actions and maintain narrative intelligibility.

Easy and immediate understanding, isolated or together, the metaphors here didactically bundle the meaning of the film. This way, there is no danger of dispersion and the “investigative” appetite of the spectator is satisfied, who sees his intelligence rewarded. The categorical demonstration of this resource is evident in the opening sequence, when an insect appears under a package of bread on the Kim family table. To reinforce this, shortly after, pest control takes place through the smoke that invades the entire room where the Kim family is.

There is also the “fortune stone”, which is strangely presented to the family and leaves in the air the idea that one should expect something from it. Signage is given and sealed. The fate of those people has been stamped, but for now there is only one suspicion to be confirmed or denied later. From then on, each scene will bring “clues”, pictorial or not, which, duly picked up, will outline the “understanding” of the plot.

As can be seen, instead of untying a world, Joon-ho Bong's cinema ties it into a totality that must have existed forever. This becomes clear in the watertight, dual and symmetrical model used to expose the class structure, which had previously appeared in the simplistic metaphor of dividing the wagons into The Train of Tomorrow. In Parasite the situation is less embarrassing. In this case, resort was made to the traditional projection of social inequality – rich and poor, always them – on the topography of the urban space. The upper region is obviously where the wealthy Park family lives, linked to the high-tech sector and occupying a sunny and verdant house. For them, cell phone signal reaches underground.

In the lower region, on the contrary, are the arid streets and far from the blue sky, where the Kim Family, unemployed and dependent on informal jobs, lives in a pestilent semi-basement (and without a measly internet connection). The slope that leads to the Park house and the sequence of descent under the diluvian rain dramatically indicate the abyssal distance that separates these two regions (and classes). By the way, stairs and slopes deserve attention in this system of relations. Mountains and stones ditto.

The contrast is corroborated by the composition of the two houses. The first is spacious, with corridors, airy rooms, floors and staircases that the camera explores in open angles and movements. The sun invades the room through a huge glass wall that brings in the lawn and the sky. In the semi-basement, you can barely see the separation between the rooms, the light seeps in through the tiny window that faces a dirty street and, an important detail, the floor is below the toilet. The margin for movement of people and the camera is small and the shots do not achieve a wide aperture.

The class fracture, therefore, is inscribed in geography and architecture, like a structure carved and eternalized in the rock. The broken city, irreconcilable and indifferent, is restored once more in cinema. The rich live in houses on high, like humans, the poor in holes and sewers, like insects, or rather parasites. Something similar, except for the eschatological data, to the building of Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) or to some dystopian fantasy that is very much in vogue today.

This organization gains emblematic representation in the key image of the film, that is, in the basement-bunker located in the basement of the modernist house of the Parks. The entrance to this place, ignored by the owners, is hidden in a pantry whose door, in the center of an illuminated wall full of refined adornments, is always photographed as a dark hole similar to those crevices from which cockroaches and other insects emerge at night. .

There took refuge Geun-Se, the bankrupt and disheartened man who opted for “parasitism” to guarantee his stable survival and far from loan sharks. The homology between this den and the Kim family's semi-basement is immediate; Mr. Geun-Se is to the Park family what the Kim family is to the wealthy in general. And the worst: the basement is the destination of Mr. Kim, who in the end takes refuge in the same place, resigned and carrying out the exact ritual of his predecessor. It's the horror genre's own record, in which the character is doomed to the grave he foresees. The critical notation lies in the fact that no strange and terrifying force condemned him to this curse; it was the economic reason – unemployment and financial bankruptcy – that threw him into this fate.

But economics is a ghost that justifies and condemns the poor; it's not a problem that the Parks and other rich people are responsible for. They just feel disgusted. It is the only political attitude they play in the face of “crossing the line” (by smell) on the part of workers, for whom only blind devotion and an outburst of accumulated rage can do. There is no tension in the economic sphere, which is far away; only cunning, humiliation and resentment remain in the domestic sphere - and what was a critical gain disappears.

With regard to this terrible fate, which befalls the poor and prevents them from being able to draw up and carry out plans for life, an important consideration is in order. From the opening scene to the ending, what is most demanded among the members of the Kim family are plans. With each advance or setback in the farce, what is repeated is the question about the existence of a plan, which is known to not exist. Nor should it exist, as Mr. Kim, desolate among the homeless, admits to his son. The plans are unworkable. The facts are there to confirm the truth of the finding, because in a society with an unstable economy, in which workers are the most affected by the cyclical process of accumulation, it really is a mistake to rely on long-term plans and narratives (ironically, Mr Park admires Mr Kim, his driver, for dedicating himself to his career for decades).

However, if instability and improvisation apply to reality, they do not apply to the narrative construction of the film. Paradoxically, this absence of shots is precisely the common thread, or the fixed idea, that entangles the film and binds it together. It is the fulcrum of the script in directing the sequences. If there is a chronic impossibility in planning the characters' lives (and off-screen), this is not true for the film, which is very well woven and meticulously excludes chance, ambiguity, lapses. As foreseen in the recipes, all of this is constructed as a game or puzzle supported by the controlled and accessible use of metaphors, symmetries, verbal and image cues, ironies, trails and many other manipulation devices.

The path is defined and marked. Hence, it is unfair to demand autonomous projects in a film in which the script and editing expropriate the characters' freedom of action and future (just like the viewer's drift autonomy). All are confined in the hole and will not come out, no matter how hard they try. Or, more likely, there has been a calcification of people and actions. The “stone of fortune”, which Ki Woo admits “is in me”, is proof of that. It practically opens and closes the misadventures of the young man and his family. In spite of the film and the director, this stone is the very device of this cinema, which crystallizes and eternalizes the world.

Finally, despite the considerations suggested here, Parasite it is a well-made work compared to the cinema available on the market. In a way, its problems are its merits, that is, it is a polished film, with good appropriation of genres, agile pace and script without spare parts. In addition, there is his frank concern for pressing social issues. However, it is not enough to pack a critical theme in a conventional guise to obtain a radical critical result. From what we tried to assess, Parasite, by protecting the spectator and restricting its scope of meaning, ends up dissipating any spark of change. From this angle, it can be said that the film is resolved as a neat product with possibilities for great entertainment and some critical performance due to its social content. No more than that, after all, Joon-ho Bong is in the entertainment business and that's what he honestly delivers.

*Roberto Noritomi He holds a PhD in sociology of culture.

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