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The moral grayness of inter-class interactions in a black-and-white screening of ‘Parasite’

| Monday, April 12, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

2019 Oscar winner “Parasite” was screened at DPAC this past Saturday in black and white. The South Korean film is a black comedy about class tension in which the poor Kim family use deception to obtain service jobs in the house of the wealthy Park family. “Parasite” suggests that it’s not just the poor who are ‘parasitic;’ the affluent, too, are guilty of bleeding the poor dry. The film keeps viewers engaged constantly, whether through thrilling action sequences, impeccable cinematography or astute social commentary.

Since “Parasite” is such a multi-layered film, watching it in black and white made me notice things that I hadn’t before. With the color stripped away, certain aspects of the cinematography become less noticeable — for instance, the contrast between the bright, colorful mansion of the Parks and the dingy, grey contrast of the Kim’s semi-basement home isn’t as apparent in black and white. Similarly, shocking elements like the pools of blood in climactic attack scene don’t feel as jarring without color. However, the stark visuals made me realize even more how dark the themes of “Parasite” really are. Despite its witty storytelling and gripping plot, the film is about the profound failure of modern capitalism to provide employment to the educated middle class. The poor family may scheme and laugh through their hardships, but their story is devastating. 

The monochrome made me focus on how masterfully the soundtrack of “Parasite” complements the visuals. The film uses the sounds of a soprano choir to accompany the scene where the Kim family is enjoying the mansion while the Park family is on a camping trip. This beautiful, lilting singing marks the proverbial calm before the film’s huge tonal shift from comedy to thriller, which takes place when the Kim family finds out that the old housekeeper’s husband is trapped underneath the house. Scenes that boast intense action — among them, the moment when the Kim family is wrestling the old housekeeper and her husband as the latter duo threatens to expose their deceptive scheme — are accompanied by energetic orchestral string music that heightens the tension. The baroque music coupled with slow-motion shots of violence really make you reflect on how capitalism reduces the poor to fighting each other just to maintain their relative affluence.

“Parasite” is realistic in the sense that it portrays the rich family as gullible and ignorant rather than as malevolent villains. The Park family, for instance, has no idea that the housekeeper’s husband has been living in the basement of their house. They don’t realize that the lights that they think are controlled by motion sensors are actually being turned on and off by the housekeeper’s husband pounding his head against the switchboard in a somewhat masochistic attempt to maintain his sanity. Similarly, the Park family is generally very concerned about their employees maintaining professionalism and not overstepping into their personal lives. However, they routinely make the Kim family work overtime, pushing the boundaries of their jobs to include entertaining guests at the Park’s son’s birthday party. The Parks don’t allow them to refuse working overtime, thinking that offering them extra pay means that they don’t need to have consideration for their employees’ lives. The film uses these examples to talk about the wider phenomenon of ‘cool capitalism’ where we take for granted products like gadgets and clothes sold by large corporations, turning a blind eye to the exploitation of the workers who make them. 

Watching “Parasite” in black and white gave me a deeper appreciation for the creative connections in the plot and the brilliance of the score. It also made me remember an argument I had with one of my friends who said she didn’t like “Parasite.” At the time, I was transfixed by the film’s tight plot and deftly satirical elements. She, on the other hand, was very saddened by the reality depicted in the film. The haunting starkness of the monochrome made me understand more deeply how “Parasite” sketches a portrait of our broken society. 


Title: “Parasite”

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Starring: Cho Yeo-jeong, Park So-dam, Woo-shik Choi

Genre: Black Comedy, Thriller

If you liked: “Get Out,” “Memories of Murder”

Shamrocks:  5 out of 5 


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