“Parasite” perfects cinematic social commentary

Wesley Stenzel, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Last year, if you told Academy members that Bong Joon-ho would be a frontrunner for the Oscars’ esteemed Best Director prize, nine out of ten of them wouldn’t know who you were talking about. The director’s films have long been overlooked in the United States, despite the fact that his most recent two movies have been high-profile American coproductions (2013’s “Snowpiercer” and 2017’s “Okja”). But the hypothetical 10th Academy member would be completely unsurprised by the filmmaker’s success, as Bong Joon-ho has been one of South Korea’s most consistent directors, creating modern classics such as “Mother” and “The Host” for the better part of the last two decades.

In many ways, his journey reflects that of last year’s Best Director-winner, Alfonso Cuarón — both filmmakers rose to prominence in their respective home countries, then found solid success in the United States working with American actors in English-language movies, before finally returning home to create their magnum opus in their native tongue. For Cuarón, it was “Roma,” and now, for Bong, it’s the incredible “Parasite.”

Bong’s newest film has been met with universal critical acclaim, with many writers hailing it as the best movie of the year, and one of the best of the decade. “Parasite” is completely deserving of this praise, and yet, it’s difficult to describe its greatness without spoiling essential elements of its plot. The film will be best enjoyed by viewing it with as little knowledge as possible — even assigning the film a genre could do it a disservice. Rest assured, though: the remainder of this review will attempt to praise “Parasite” without revealing any of the plot’s specificities.

The greatest strength of “Parasite” is its airtight screenplay — it’s complex, but never confusing. The script is so meticulously crafted that every line of dialogue is essential, and not a single second of screen time could be removed without damaging the overall cohesion of the film. Bong ensures that every detail is important, as he gracefully introduces each piece of the narrative’s complex puzzle without ever making it obvious that he’s doing so. Seemingly extraneous conversations and characters become unpredictably prominent, and the script’s attention to detail will hugely reward repeat viewings.

Yet the screenplay’s efficiency doesn’t hinder its thematic substance or emotional complexity. “Parasite” explores the brokenness of society with incredible nuance — it thoroughly examines socioeconomic conflict without idolizing or villainizing any particular group, and points out social issues without overtly committing to partisan politics. Viewers can completely understand every character’s actions, even if they’re morally reprehensible, because they all make sense within each character’s particular context. Because of this dynamic contextualization, “Parasite” lacks straightforward heroes and villains, and instead features numerous well-rounded characters whose understandable motivations bring them into conflict with one another.

The cinematography, set design, and editing work hand-in-hand to juxtapose different lifestyles and effortlessly put the viewers in each character’s shoes. When a character struggles, the film utilizes tight framing, claustrophobic settings, and frenzied cuts to enhance the sense of anxiety, while calmer scenes employ wider shots, larger spaces, and longer takes to allow the characters and viewers to catch their breath.

“Parasite” has two possible fates this awards season: it will either receive a plethora of nominations, or it will be the singular movie that everybody online complains about being snubbed. It’s simultaneously a riveting social commentary and a thrilling piece of entertainment, and is universally accessible — while mature and occasionally graphic, any viewer of any age will be able to appreciate its quality.