I love a totally insane movie as much as the next guy. You know the kind. The movie that seems like it emanated from the brain of someone with ADHD who is also a cocaine addict. I’m talking about a movie as nuts as its creator is surely nuts.
A couple of years ago, there was one called Colossal, in which we learn a giant Godzilla-like monster is the unconscious manifestation of an alcoholic party girl in New England played by Anne Hathaway. When she enters a playground in her home town at 8:05 a.m., the monster rampages in Seoul, South Korea. Why? Who knows?
Speaking of South Korea, there’s another insane movie made by a South Korean director called Snowpiercer. It’s about the surviving inhabitants of planet Earth living on a train in perpetual motion going around the planet. There are peasants in the back and rich people in the front; the peasants live on ground-up cockroaches while the rich people dine on pheasant. There’s a revolution. It’s bonkers.
Both movies are genre pictures. Colossal is a Japanese monster-movie disguised as a Reese Witherspoon go-back-home romantic comedy. Snowpiercer is a post-apocalypse thingamajig. Entrants in genres—and we might as well throw in Get Out, which is a racialist horror flick—must have some kind of originality if they are to work. They have to provide a variation on the classic form that takes it in an unexpected direction.
I’m telling you all this because you’re going to hear a lot about (yes) another South Korean movie called Parasite in the coming months if you pay attention to the movies. It was made by the guy who made Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-Ho. And it is as insane. It differs only from its predecessor and other lunatic movies in that there’s nothing futuristic or supernatural or magical going on.
It’s a movie about a struggling poor family whose members insinuate themselves one by one into serving as the household retinue of a rich family. The son becomes the English tutor of the rich family’s teenage daughter; he gets the job after his sister forges a college diploma for him. The son turns around and gets his sister a job as the art therapist of the family’s nine-year-old son—she has no qualifications for this, but due to hustler skills picked up from her gadabout father, manages beautifully. She, in turn, arranges for her father to become the chauffeur. They all conspire to get the mother the job as the family housekeeper. So far, what we have in Parasite is a mildly engaging con-artist comedy, though maybe a little slow.
And then, halfway through, it takes the deranged turn that marks it as an insane movie for the ages. From this point forward it’s not like any movie you’ve ever seen, which is the quality all insane movies have. But then, one of the reasons these movies are insane is that they make no logical sense from scene to scene. The leaps of plot work because they exist within Bong’s head and he is a gifted storyteller and makes you jump across the barriers of reason with him.
I won’t tell you what the deranged turn is, because even if you don’t see it in theaters you are probably going to want to watch it on Netflix or wherever after the Oscar nominations come out in January. The world of cineastes has gone absolutely wild over Parasite. It won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It has a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The word “masterpiece” has been used in relation to it by American film critics even more frequently than the phrase “here’s the deal” has been used by Joe Biden.
The general view seems to be that Parasite is the Movie Of The Year because it is a metaphorical portrait of income inequality—how income inequality brutalizes those on the short end of the stick, and how they might fight back. Given the politics of Snowpiercer and an earlier horror picture called The Host, one can indeed assume this is the message Bong intends us to take away from Parasite—and in presenting it, Bong has triggered the autonomic political response of the ever-vacuous film commentariat. The increasingly tiny number of working film critics, you see, once read a whole article about income inequality! Together! And, eager to show off their little learning, which is (pace Alexander Pope) not so much a dangerous thing as an embarrassing thing, these professional cineastes are always at the ready to merge into a hive mind and create the Film You Must See for promoting Politics Everybody In Brooklyn Has.
Bong’s greatest accomplishment is that he has turned an insane movie into an Oscar-bait movie. It will likely be nominated for best picture, foreign film, director, screenplay, and cinematography at the upcoming Oscars, and will easily win one or two. And when you watch Parasite, you will come to the end, and turn to your spouse, and say, “What the hell was that?”
John Podhoretz is the editor of Commentary Magazine. He was the co-founder and movie critic of the Weekly Standard.