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Parasite: A Perversion of Hospitality

by Alexis Dumain

Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 Korean thriller Parasite (2019) is as much a commentary on interclass dynamics as it is on disintegrating humanity. In its perversion of hospitality and consumption, it repels and disturbs the viewer, asking — or rather, coercing — them to reflect on just what exactly has gone so horribly wrong. Is it the way the Kim family manipulates the wealthy Parks in order to ensure their own survival? Or, is it the pervasive dehumanization of the ‘other,’ done by all parties? Or, is it the very fact the characters were able and drawn to do so in the first place?

Even the concept of a ‘parasite’ suggests a deterioration of the ideals of the host-guest relationship; for a parasite, there is no reciprocity of the graciousness, and even divine welcoming, initiated by the host. Though in this film, Joon-ho examines the base animal impulses that lurk within us, we are reminded of just how unique the human condition is by how appalling we find the unprovoked harm incurred on the hosts. No other animal deliberately defies their instinct to discriminate against the stranger and exclude in so ritual a manner. That those who made themselves vulnerable and performed one of the most essentially-human acts was taken advantage of offends a collective notion of our exceptionalism.

Yet, as Parasite explores, who is the actual parasite, and by extension, on whose behalf should we be offended? The line between predator and prey, parasite and unwitting host, becomes increasingly blurred. And, as Mr. Park ominously reminds us, the only rule is to never cross the line.


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