Parasite: A Deeper Look at the Social Class Divide

Warning: This article discusses major spoilers for the film, Parasite. Please proceed with caution.

As the week before the Oscars was wrapping up, I, being an avid moviegoer, was trying to watch every Oscar-nominated film to help fill out my Oscar ballot. While reading the said list, my eyes naturally zeroed in on the “Best Picture” category, and I saw a film name I hadn’t heard of: Parasite. Naturally, I looked up the film, and as I watched the trailer for it, I got chills down my spine. I knew I needed to watch it.

In watching the film, I knew I would need to rewatch the film a few more times to dig out some analysis points, and this led me to write an article. Today, I will be discussing some key elements that I picked up on in rewatching, and how these elements help reveal Parasite’s key themes. 

The first observation I picked up on was the use of stairs throughout the film. Even in the scenes involving the Kim household, you note that they live in these basement apartments called “banjiha”, which translates roughly to “semi- basement”. Later in the film, we meet the Park family, a rich household that needs house staff to help it function. To get to their home, the Kims must trek up the driveway, which visually showcases the shift in social classes. Furthermore, whenever the Kims leave the Park household and walk home (they don’t drive like the Parks do) they descend down various flights of stairs down to the “basement” level of society. By using stairs as a social divide staple, Bong establishes “visual architecture” as a key to one of the major points about the film, which is the widening gap among the social classes. In establishing this visual motif, it reinforces the subconscious “climb and fall” of the Kim family, as they climb up and down the social ladder. Another scene that employs stairs as a visual cue is when the storm floods throughout their town. For the Park family, it’s a minor inconvenience, stating that it canceled their camping trip; however, for the Kim family, they run down staircase after staircase, only to find their house has been flooded by the rain and sewage water, and they have to scavenge for mementos to save. In the sequence of them running down the flights of stairs, it reminded me of a key theme in the film: no matter how hard the Kim family tries to integrate into the Park household, they will always be one step (or many steps) below them, both physically and socially. 

people standing and walking around at a mall

Further in the movie, an element I picked up on was the family dynamics, between the Kims and the Parks. In most of the scenes involving the Kims, they are always seen together, and if they are alone, their motifs are solely for the family’s combined benefit. We first see this when Ki-Woo, Mr. Kim’s son meets with his friend, Min, and discusses how his parents are unemployed and he wishes he could help. Later, Ki-Woo also manipulates the Parks into hiring his family, thus creating solidarity, contrasting the very family he’s trying to work for. In contrast, the Park family is rarely ever seen together; rather, the Park parents strive to hire tutors to “perfect” their kids and focuses primarily on their younger son, Da-song. Unlike the Kims, the Park family doesn’t rely on everyone’s combined efforts to keep their family afloat, rather, they rely on an entirely lower-class family to support them. This difference highlights the fierce, camaraderie of the Kim family, born out of strict necessity, versus the naive, distant family dynamic of the Parks. The Parks can afford their kind natures because life is handed to them on a platter, where the Kims have to navigate the world in a savage, manipulative light. This is seen with Mrs. Kim’s quote from the middle of the film, in response to her husband’s remark, “Even though she’s rich, she’s nice”, and she replies coldly, “She’s nice because she’s rich”. Bong Joon- Ho uses these family dynamics to highlight the contrast between the two families, and how they couldn’t be any more different, similar to modern class divides.

While I could continue on about various aspects of the film, Parasite would require multiple revisits to fully unpack its hidden themes. Even for the average movie viewer, this film has a lot to offer in the path of social commentary, and I hope this is the start to more social thrillers in the near future. Who knows, maybe we will see more social commentary thrillers such as this one in an American context, and I sincerely hope to see Parasite in future film theory classes to come.