Confessions of a Parasite

Confessions of a Parasite
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Like a boulder rushing down a mountainside, Bong Joon-Ho’s 2019 film Parasite has gained momentum. It won the Palme d’Or at cannes, received critical acclaim in South Korea, and captured the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The plot follows the Kims, a poor family of four in Seoul who scrape by in their semi-basement dwelling until the son, Ki-woo, lands a tutoring job for the wealthy Park family. As the story unfolds, each of the Kims worms their way into the lives of the Parks. The interconnected series of events is tightly woven, mischievous, and riveting. It is also graphic, warranting an ‘R’ rating.

Why has such a story captured imaginations from East to West? The acting is laudable. The look of disgust from Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) at the musty odor of his chauffeur sums up class prejudice in one look. There are thoughtful allusions: In the opening scene, a stink bug crawls on the kitchen table. Director Bong welcomes the comparison to the Kims, and when they open the windows to allow an exterminator’s fumes to waft into their apartment, the comparison is complete.

Visual juxtapositions in the film fascinate. An attractive young woman lighting up a cigarette with rising sewage swirling around her shows peril and peace simultaneously. 

Mainly, people relate to it. Might they dare to see themselves as parasites?

Like the Kims insinuating themselves into the lives of the Parks, a parasite is an organism that lives on and benefits from a host at the host’s expense. That definition sums up many transactions in society. A salesperson massages a potential buyer to make the sale. A banker plays with numbers to look better to get the year-end bonus, even at the expense of clients. A teacher offers glowing comments to an influential family to gain favor, and that family tacitly ensures preferential treatment. Politicians master the art of rhetoric to live off the support of their bases.

Even social media can be parasitical. The high and mighty can only be high and mighty if they live off their hosts—fingers that click. 

The movie begs a question: Who is the parasite? Who is the host? We don’t like to think about it, but we all use others for gain.

Bong’s movie does not glamorize parasitism but shows its destructive outcome. The movie sits heavily on viewers because there is no redemption, no solution, no prescription. Viewers draw their own conclusions.

What can we Christians conclude? Christ is the opposite of a parasite. Christ loses his life so we can find ours. He becomes sin so we can become righteous. He embraces poverty so we can become rich.

John Calvin once said knowledge of God and of humanity are related. If Calvin was right, then Bong and his viewers might be getting closer to God because they see what we are like apart from God. Lord, help us be the opposite of a parasite; help us to be more like Christ.

About the Author

John Lee is an administrator at an independent school and an interim pastor of Newtown Reformed Church in Elmhurst, N.Y. His Ph.D. is in ancient history. His book On Generosity will come out in the fall of 2021 from Stone Tower Press (stonetowerpress.com).

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