PARASITE, ME?

Enrique Castro Ríos


Parasite trailer, Cinépolis Distribution’s YouTube channel.
 

“People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as ‘parasites’ fail to understand economics and parasitism. A successful parasite is one that is not recognized by its host, one that can make its host work for it without appearing as a burden. Such is the ruling class in a capitalist society.”

Professor Jason Read
University of Southern Maine
 

Deservedly, Parasite (Gisaengchung, romanization of the Hangul 기생충, South Korea, 2019), has made history in the world of cinema as the first film “in a foreign language” —oh, dreams of Empire!—, that is, not in English, to receive Best Film Academy Award (a.k.a., Oscar), bestowed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards (AMPAS for its, what else?, English initials, and in Spanish a homophone for mafias, maras and the Napoli camorra).

Not to mention its other “Oscars”, the “incorrect” yet endearing nickname for these awards, and in Parasite’s case a dream list for those who still believe in these prizes: Best Director for Bong Joon-ho (snatching the statuette right off the hands of genetically–modified sacred cows such as Martin Scorsese, Sam Mendes and Quentin Tarantino); Best Original Screenplay for Bong and Han Jin Won; and Best International Film, an award known until the first week of February 2020, that is, until the last edition of the Oscars, under the more honest title “Best Foreign Language Film”. Waitaminute… foreign to whom?

Days later, after surviving the hangovers of the Academ– bah, Oscars — that’s just two syllables instead of twenty-three— ... after surviving the hangovers following the Oscars and its myriad afterparties, each with various celestial rings of exclusivity according to how rich and/or famous you are, culminating in a sanctum sanctorum with Jeff Bezos; and while deeply admiring the brutally powerful and devastating Parasite, we must ask ourselves at least three “strong questions”[1] about these Awards:

 

1.

Why has it taken the Academy NINETY TWO YEARS to accept that a film in a language other than English may be considered and chosen as “Best Movie”? That’s just eight years short of a century and almost the duration of the US military Occupation of Panama. Tacking into account, of course, that “Best” can have a thousand interpretations. We are talking about an award that is twenty-one years older than the Cannes Film Festival’s Palm d’Or, the Holy Host of film prizes (btw, remember that to make themselves confusingly interesting, the French do not pronounce the last letter or two in their written words and therefore Cannes is pronounced Cann; to help yourself mnemonically you may think of the can-can or of the Queen of Funk and more recently Queen of GIF, Chaka Khan[2]).
 

2.

Why do members of the AMPAS, who in their daily work and lifestyles do so much to preserve and normalize injustice and inequality amongst human beings, producing and interpreting endless romantic, hyper-sweetened stories about the rich who also cry, vociferously shriek “Bravo!” for a film like Parasite, which meticulously dissects the parasitic social cancer of unbridled economic Might? This for me is a flashback to 1993 and the Oscar for Best Documentary awarded to The Panama Deception, a film that vigorously criticized the collaborationism between the US press corps and the US armed forces, a symbiosis that was fundamental to justify the clearly illegal, if not brutal, US invasion of Panama (and subsequent US wars); yet so many members of the Academy, who unabashedly breastfeed from the Pentagon, produce film after film about brave USAmerican soldiers liberating nation after nation à la Nagasaki (or if we don’t want to reach atomic extremes, à la Dresden or à la countless Korean villages and downs bombed to smithereens during the US War on Korea). Just to mention the case of Ridley Scott, the extraordinarily talented director of the original Blade Runner (USA 1982), he also happened to roll out the impressive G.I. Jane (USA 1997) but especially the perversely beautiful Black Hawk Down (USA 2001), both odes to USAmerican armed forces brutality.
 

3.

Why, after such strong criticism about the Academy’s lack of ethnic, gender and economic diversity, to mention just three “categories” of exclusion, the 20-20 Oscars get their way and once again ignore non-Caucasian, non-masculine and non-solvent creativity, using a film of economic struggle between Koreans of the same skin color as smokescreen to make themselves look-and-feel “diverse”?


Deep down, it’s terribly naïve of me to ask questions whose answers I quite well know. Deep down, unbridled Might is terribly clever in appropriating and incorporating its strongest critics in order to expand its markets and pour make-up on its shortcomings. Deep down, or to appropriate the Anglo-Saxon expression, at the end of the day, Hollywood cinema will continue to parasitize the creativity of the entire planet.

Aiming this criticism at myself, and by extension at ourselves now, will we take heed of —and act upon— Parasite’s strong social criticism from deep within our hearts and question our own parasitism of others and of the Other, especially those of supposedly “inferior” socio-economic strata? If we do not, will the film have failed its purpose? What is the role of cinema, and how deep its responsibilities, this cinema that we consider life?

To close, I clarify that I LOVED PARASITE, just like that: with high-lit, emboldened, underscored closed capitals and an inconsolable depression. At times reminiscent of the use of black comedy in the Brazilian short film Ilha das flores (Island of Flowers, Brazil 1989, by Jorge Furtado[3]), the opening overdoses of ever-darker humour in Parasite / Gisaengchung seduce you to drop each and every one of your guards, to suddenly bayonet you with one uncomfortable truth after another and force you to descend, like Dante, to the ever-deeper rings of the inferno. And every time you think you’ve hit rock bottom, there is more rock and more bottom. There, in the deepest pit of human nature, like a modern Rated-R Salò[4]Parasite confronts us, as peoples and as societies, with our most abominable contradictions and with the Sisyphean task of overcoming them.

 

Enrique Castro Ríos
[email protected] 

 

[1]  I once again appropriate the phrase by filmmaker Mauro Colombo, director of Tierra adentro / Inland, during our conversation after the selection of his film for the Bright Future section of the 49. IFF Rotterdam 2020: “I like a documentary when it leaves me with a strong question.” https://www.iffpanama.org/es/blog/cancha-larga-cine-es-alquimia-y-brujeria
[2]  I rest my case: Like Sugar, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RecY5iZn6B0
[3]  Ilha das flores, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVjhNaX57iA
[4]  Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Saló or the 120 Days of Sodom, Italy 1975, by Pier Paolo Pasolini).