Parasite, director Bong Joon-Ho’s masterpiece of class conflict and pitch-black comedy, was the surprise winner of the Oscar for Best Picture earlier this month, along with wins for Best Director, Original Screenplay, and International Feature Film. And one of the most surprising things about Parasite was that almost everybody who saw it liked it. That’s certainly the case for just about everyone I know who has seen it.
…even more unusually, nobody ever really articulated a strong case against it.
The film has a 99% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, based on over 400 reviews, with its audience score also ranking over 90. And even more unusually, nobody ever really articulated a strong case against it. That’s pretty rare for an incendiary film with something to say about economic equality – not to mention a fair amount of gore, as well as subtitles.
Even the most popular films that contend for Best Picture usually inspire at least some level of backlash, but Parasite never did, which may be why it ultimately won at the Oscars.
However, it took until after the Best Picture win for the truly ridiculous Parasite takes to start flying.
Trump vs. Bong
Following the win, America’s crankiest film critic weighed in on Parasite. No, not Armond White – though he wasn’t a fan either – but rather President Donald Trump.
Speaking at a rally February 19, the president riffed on the Oscars, complaining about the result that had Parasite winning.
“How bad were the Academy Awards this year, did you see? ‘And the winner is … a movie from South Korea,” the president said.
“What the hell was that all about? We’ve got enough problems with South Korea with trade, on top of it they give them the best movie of the year?” Trump went on to think back wistfully on Gone With the Wind– which came out in 1939, and Sunset Boulevard, which was released in 1950. Only the former was a Best Picture winner.
There’s little indication that Trump has actually seen Parasite, and seemed to base his reaction to the film entirely on which country it was made in. In fact, the film’s plot – a family of poor people slowly invade the large estate of a rich family – sounds like Trump’s worst nightmare.
Then again, the president’s speech merely echoed the sentiments of a viral tweet from Oscar night that was widely denounced as racist:
MoDo Weighs In
A lot of American political columnists like to employ the lazy column construction of looking at a currently popular movie or TV show and somehow relate it to that week’s political headlines. The media’s worst offender of this hacky device is The New York Times‘ Maureen Dowd, who, when Game of Thrones went off the air, sadly lost the ability to relate the latest episode to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
Dowd, of course, wrote about the Trump/Parasite speech, with the headline “America’s Parasite,” concluded with the line “In ‘Gone With the Wind,‘ Atlanta burned to the ground. In Trump’s version, Washington is aflame,” which presumably passes for trenchant analysis in some universe, but not ours.
Bong’s Justice League
Of course it wasn’t only politicians and columnists who had memorable Parasite brainfarts. The movie website Collider ran a much-mocked list Feb 20 of “10 Projects We’d Like to See [Bong] Direct.”
Written by Jeff Sneider, the piece listed such ideas as World War Z 2, a remake of Strangers on a Train, and, yes, Justice League Dark.
…there’s no way Parasite, in a million years, would have appeared on a “movies Bong should make next” list.
The list is of a piece with an extremely unfortunate tendency in film culture to treat comic book and other franchise projects as the “real” movies, and now that Bong has had such success with a piddling film like Parasite, it’s now time for him to move up to the big leagues, to a movie that has Batman in it.
Bong now has the clout to most likely choose his own project. If his dream is to make World War Z 2 (and I’m guessing it probably isn’t) then good for him. But I’ve got a feeling the ten movies Bong most wants to direct next are ten movies that only he could make, and which exist in his head right now. Because there’s no way Parasite, in a million years, would have appeared on a “movies Bong should make next” list.
Can rich people like Parasite?
Since Parasite is a movie about massive social inequalities, there’s been a great deal about how incongruous it is that a lot of rich celebrities seem to be big fans of the film.
Neal Brennan, the co-creator of Chappelle’s Show, got quite a bit of mockery online for appearing to not understand the film’s central metaphor. (“Who is the parasite? The rich or the poor? With that in mind, explain the 3rd act to me”).
But elsewhere, a lot of people seemed to question wealthy people’s love for Parasite, when they supposedly should have seen that people like them are the villains of the story.
I don’t really see that, though. This argument is of a piece with a lot of the arguments being had during the current presidential election. “How can you be rich if you’re a socialist?” “Why vote for Bernie Sanders, when you should just be giving your money away instead?”
On the Parasite question, I’d say it’s better to be a self-aware rich person than an un-self-aware rich people. If a wealthy person went to see Parasite, and took away from it that there’s way too much inequality, in both South Korean and American society, didn’t they have the exact right takeaway? Unless they have a guy hiding in their basement, they’re not guilty of hypocrisy.
It’s a good thing that Parasite won Best Picture, as it’s actually the type of film that cineastes are going to re-watch, think about and discuss in the years to come, which is more than I can say for 1917, which was the perceived frontrunner. After all, when was the last time you watched or thought about The Artist, The King’s Speech, or Birdman?
It’s a great film, and no politician, columnist, tweeter or clickbait author can take that away.