Slate Money Goes to the Movies: Parasite

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S1: This and free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Hello and welcome to the parasite episode of Sleep. Money goes to the movies, I am Felix Salmon of Axios. I’m here with Emily Peck of Fundrise. Hello. And we are going to talk about what I think is safe to say the best movie not only of this season, but of both seasons. So this is an absolute masterpiece of a movie by Bongiorno Parasite. If you haven’t seen it, don’t listen to this podcast. Just go off and see it. That’s the most important thing. And then once you’ve seen it, you can listen to well, you can listen to a little bit of me and Emily talking about this. But the main person you want to listen to to talk about this movie is Doti Stuart of The New York Times. Welcome, Doti.

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S2: Hello. Hi, how are you? Hi there.

S1: Introduce yourself. Who are you?

S2: Who am I? How are you? Ergo Sum, I am a writer. I’m an editor at the New York Times. I’m your former co-worker. A little I. Yes, and I’m a former screenwriting major and a movie enthusiast.

S1: Any movie that you chose, it would have been amazing just for the presence of that. I do it. But I have to say this is the confluence of two absolutely perfect things. Dodo’s, you’re a parasite coming together on Slate money goes to the movies. OK, so don’t write this movie came out in twenty nineteen, did you see it in the theater when

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S2: it came out later? Yes, absolutely.

S1: And did you leave the theater thinking, wow, that was something?

S2: Absolutely. I left the theater thinking that I actually had some hype around it and I wasn’t even prepared for how actually good it was. It was. I thought it was even better than it had been hyped to me.

S1: I kind of completely agree with you on this one. I felt that when I came out of the movie theater in twenty nineteen and then re watching it for this show, I was like, you know what, it’s probably even better than that. It just, it’s kind of even better on repeat viewing.

S2: Yeah. It’s a masterpiece. I really do believe that. And I think that seeing it again, I saw some things that I didn’t notice before. And also I think just with a little space and time, I had more feelings about it. I was thinking about the pandemic also and revealing haves and have nots and so on and so forth.

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S1: Is this a parable of contemporary capitalism

S2: and temporary and past and future?

S1: It’s just capitalism writ large inequality, parasitical behavior, a lack of trust.

S2: I think it just raises so many questions. It’s so interesting. And it just there’s so many different layers of have and have not. I mean, the very first scene is like that they’re trying to get Wi-Fi and just thinking of all of the technological issues that the pandemic raised and public school children who couldn’t do remote learning because they had no Wi-Fi or broadband. And it just you know, it’s just there’s so many things there’s so many ways that it’s applicable. And, you know, the fact that this family can’t function without employing all these people, it’s like, are they the parasites, you know?

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S3: Yes. Yes, they are. Yes, they are.

S1: Capital is always parasitical on labor. We learn that reading Karl

S2: Marx, you know, and beyond. I mean, the fact that her kid needs art therapy in her mind, I don’t even know what that is. Capitalism or is that something else?

S1: What’s your theory that I felt when the daughter has her first lesson with this completely unruly kid that no one can bring to heel and she immediately knocks him into perfect behavior? How did you manage that?

S2: Well, I think probably he’s been coddled and never spoken to with any kind of authority, and she probably only had to ask very nicely.

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S3: Yeah, I mean, it does seem like one of the themes, like you already said, was that the rich folks in the film, the parks

S2: are

S3: parasites to the poor folks in the film, the Kims and the parks notably can’t really do anything for themselves. Mr. Park can make a lot of money running some company called something or other. I don’t remember, but that’s all he can do. And the wife, Mrs. Park, doesn’t seem to really do very much. I mean, she feeds her three dogs, fufu. And what are the other two calls? I just remember fufu is one.

S2: There’s a bee.

S3: I think I wrote them down, actually. Where is this? This is important. Zooni, Berry and Souffl. Yeah. Yeah. So they’re very important to her, but she can’t do anything. There’s a great scene after we should say what the plot is, probably briefly, but there’s a great scene after the housekeeper, the first housekeeper is fired and you see Mrs. Park kind of like crouching in the dishwasher and the dishwasher is just overloaded with dishes. It’s clear she doesn’t know how to use it or even take the dishes out or put them in. It’s just like she is baffled by this and just breaking down. She’s got gloves on and an apron, but she just looks completely out of her element just to reinforce how kind of incapable these people are,

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S1: which I think is parasites, a bad name like parasites through an important part of any ecosystem. And they are generally pretty self reliant, you know, in a certain way, like they require some kind of a host to live off of. But they can you think they could, like, empty a dishwasher?

S3: Mostly, yeah. There’s some basic skills I feel like people should should have. Right. Because you get the sense that if the Kims had any opportunity in this late stage capitalist world in Korea, they would be billionaires like they just need one like foothold or something, and they could maybe make it. But you don’t get the sense that the parks could do the reverse, like if they lost it. All right. Which I guess spoiler alert. I mean, it goes badly for them, but I don’t think they could ascend back up the ladder. But I guess that’s the message of the film is like there is no up and down the ladder, really.

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S1: So what do we think about I mean, jumping forwards massively to the sort of dream sequence ending where he dreams about like becoming a millionaire or. Buying the house and freeing his father famously and all of the interviews, Bong Joon-ho said it would take five hundred and forty seven years on the average Korean salary to be able to afford that house. Is this like plausible or is this just an impossible dream? Can he turn to crime and manage it? Is he that resourceful? What do we make of that whole scene?

S2: It’s impossible. And that’s why the movie ends. If there if he could turn to crime and make it, there’d be parasites who, you know, I mean, it’s not going to it’s not going to happen. And he put the wealth stone or whatever was back in the water because it doesn’t bring you anything except for troubles. You know, I think he knows that.

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S3: I mean, is hatching his plan from the same subterranean apartment they started in. Right. The Sox still

S2: and his dad, is he just trying to give his father some hope, you know? Yeah.

S3: Yeah. We should we go through the movie before we get to the ending, though? Felix.

S1: I am very always in Emily. Is that trying to impose some kind of structure on these shows? No, I Emily what is the important thing that people need to know about the structure of power. So there are so many important things, like so many visuals from the. That’s the thing. It’s like if you haven’t seen it, I remember reading the reviews before it came out and just going, I have no idea what this film is about. It makes no sense to me. And then of course you see it and it all makes sense.

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S3: Yes. Before because I actually didn’t see it in twenty nineteen. I also thought twenty nineteen was last year, but fine, whatever it wasn’t.

S2: That is fine. Completely understand.

S3: Thank you. And I thought the movie was about like a family that lives in a basement and like does murders, but that’s totally not what it is about. So it is about a poor family and a rich family. The poor family are the Kims. And at the beginning, the son, the oldest son and the Kims gets a position tutoring the oldest girl for the parks, which is this very wealthy family. And then slowly, the Kims kind of like wormed their way into the park’s life. So first he’s a tutor, then he gets his sister, who takes on the name of Jessica to be the art therapist for the young, unruly, rich son. We could say the young kid. And then they bring in the father as the driver for Mr. Park. And then eventually the mother, the matriarch of the family, becomes the housekeeper. And everything seems great. And you think it’s this, like, caper movie and you’re like, wow, they’ve really hatched a scheme. How are they going to pull this off? And then there’s a rainstorm and everything changes. The whole movie goes sideways and it’s just you’re on the edge of your seat. How’s that?

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S1: It’s just like

S3: it it’s pretty good.

S2: Yeah, that was really good.

S3: And then we learned that the Kims are not the poorest family in this movie because there is a man living in this bunker underneath the park’s beautiful home, which I’m sure Felix will want to talk about design by fairly well made up architect. There’s this man who’s been living in the basement for four years because he’s hiding from creditors and his wife was the old housekeeper and she’s been kind of like sneaking food to him and stuff. And everything turns topsy turvy and almost the way of like how those films from the 90s, people just kept making bad decisions. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those movies from the nineties and you’re like, please don’t do that. No, don’t. OK, she hit her head, get her to the hospital. I know.

S2: I did. Talking about that Peterburg movie with the right. Very bad. I wanted it.

S3: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I like that. And you’re just like, why? No, that’s not. No, there was a little bit of that. But that is the plot in my head,

S1: the super subterranean, you know, I mean, it’s all there. Everything is done in layers. Yeah. The Kim’s house is literally on the ground half underground. The parks out. You need to climb up these stairs just to get into the ground floor. It’s kind of almost like a fortress the way it’s built. It’s just like one narrow entrance

S2: when he comes in. It’s like the birds are singing, the sun is shining, like when they open the gate. That first time he arrives, it’s like Oz, you know,

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S1: there’s this idyllic garden up in the sky, which reminds me a little bit of the idyllic garden with the white horse on the roof of the high rise in high rise, which is another movie which is like distantly related to this one, I would say. But yeah, there’s this it’s this impossibly glamorous house and actually impossible house. It was very much designed to the needs of the script and is mostly CGI and very good CGI at that. You don’t really realize it. And it’s it’s impossible to look at that house without feeling sort of interior design. What’s the word covetousness of how beautiful it. Oh, it’s but it’s also so lists and keeps the. Park family away from each other. It’s so big that they all have their own rooms, they never seem to be in the same frame as each other. And there’s very little in the way of actual family connection between them.

S3: They’re all doing things for each other. All four of them, I think, are hiding things from each other, like Mrs. Park. You know, she’s crying. But then the husband comes home to wipe away her tears and puts on some weird, phony smile. The daughter is hiding her relationship with both of her two daughters. The sun is like taxing the old housekeeper on the sly and just has a whole secret thing. And his sister says he’s totally faking his. He thinks he’s so thoughtful and a genius, but it’s all fake. And I don’t know if Mr. Park is really hiding anything. He doesn’t really have to because he’s like the patriarch boss, rich guy, leader type. Right. But the Kims don’t hide anything from each other. They’re like a tight family.

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S2: Yeah. And in fact, it’s so tight that they’re all in the bathroom together sometimes. And yeah, when they’re trying to find Wi-Fi or trying to text they all autopilot,

S3: how do they even sit on that toilet. I puzzled over that for a while. That’s where you get the Wi-Fi is like the toilets on this like weird platform.

S2: I don’t even I don’t think it’s even possible

S3: they have to go out to the alley or something was just a nightmare for Kym’s.

S2: I also thought it was interesting. There are a lot of not so subtle hints about the role that the West plays or that the United States plays. And so for Jessica to have the name Jessica and say that she’s from Illinois and it gives her like instant credentials and, you know, the kid could be playing anything, but he’s playing, quote unquote, Indians, you know, which is some kind of like freedom and violence of the Western world. Even that was really interesting to me.

S3: Yeah. I didn’t know if it meant I read somewhere where Bandino said that the fact that the kid was really into quote unquote Indians and an Indian culture was sort of an example of how complex things involving colonialism, kind of all the complexity gets stripped away. And these American products are just sort of like you were saying, were just kind of prized, totally contextless, you know, where the meaning is stripped away, but it’s still somehow has meaning in the movie because these people, the parks are kind of they’re not colonizing the Kims, per say. But there’s a kind of similar kind of class structure going on, don’t you think?

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S2: Well, and there’s it’s also like a prize for him to have a teepee and it’s a prize for them to and it’s part of their symbol of wealth that they have this kind of play acting to do and and to dress up in.

S1: Mhm. Yeah. But they go along with it to the point of Mr Paganistic erm dressing up as marauding Indians in the final scene. They’re not just leaving this to the four year old to play around with like they embrace it with. Let’s be clear about this like with lethal consequences.

S3: Yes. I also wanted to talk about the role food plays in this movie and what people get to eat and how especially those elaborate fruit platters at the park’s house, like the housekeepers, both housekeepers, they’re always making these like beautiful fruit platters and putting them out, which I think is super interesting to compare that the Kim family goes to eat and this like drivers cafeteria and they’re super excited about and they’re just like piling the food on their plates and like, you can hear them eating. And it’s just like so much more visceral. And then there’s these kind of like lush fruit platters at the park house. It’s just very different.

S2: Yeah. And actually, when the Kim family, when min the old tutor brings that, you know, stone, the wealth stone, the stone that supposedly brings wealth, the mother actually says, I wish it were food. Instead, you know, he’s brought this gift and it’s like a rock, you know, and it’s supposed to be this beautiful, lucky rock. And she actually says, like, I wish it were food instead

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S1: of what do they do? They wind up having to, like, make boxes for food even though they can’t have any food themselves. Yeah, fold the fold the pizza boxes

S2: for pizza they can’t

S3: afford. That was another kind of pretending like the pretending that the poor people have to do to suck up to the people with power, like when the woman who is going to pay them for the boxes says she’s going to pay them 10 percent less because they didn’t do all the boxes. Perfect. And that would be bad for their brand image of whatever. And then immediately, the oldest son basically takes on this kind of simpering, you know, kind of like tone and like the smiling kind of thing. And that happens again when they discover the couple in the cellar and the wife of the man in the cellar is like begging the Kim family to let them stay. And she kind of takes on that, like pleading pretence of kissing ass kind of vibe, you know, and it

S1: turns immediately that she gets the upper hand. There’s no class solidarity in this movie.

S3: No, there’s levels of just conflict.

S2: The parks are. So oblivious, you know, it’s like, oh, the rain ruined our camping trip, it like rendered these other people homeless and they have no clue about, you know, the mother is shopping for this garden party saying don’t bring anything, no presents. And then at the same time, they’re the kids are literally like rooting through other people’s clothing to find something to wear

S1: because they’ve effectively lied their way into the jobs. They pretended to be of a higher class than they actually are to be wealthy. And yet they can’t admit to having been reduced to spending the night in a shelter because they were rained out of their home. You know, Jessica went to the University of Illinois. Why would she be rained out of. And so, like, what’s lacking, of course, is any kind of human interest or contact between the two families at all. And in fact, two or three times we hear about this line in the park, patriarch believes should always exist between his family and the staff, and he wants to make sure they never cross the line. And this line is very important to him. But clearly, part of that line is not volunteering any information about your own private circumstances. That’s just like totally not his problem.

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S3: Exactly. You’re not supposed to have any personal life or problems. And of course, that comes to a head. I guess I can mention the end. It comes to the head at the end when Mr. Kim is like holding his daughter who’s been stabbed. And Mr. Park is demanding he, like, drive him to the hospital because his son got really scared. And that’s the only important thing, even as this woman is like bleeding out in his yard. And it’s just it is pretty offensive, although that makes it sound like the park family is portrayed as villains in this movie. And I think what’s really great about the film is that everyone comes across as like fully human and not as villains. Like even the the rich family. They’re sort of likable enough. I don’t sort of see them as like bad people necessarily. It’s more like they’re all playing in this system of capitalism. And that’s just how it has to go.

S2: Kind of. I mean, I think that there is something definitely something villainous about them, but I do think that, you know what I mean. The original tutor says when he’s introducing them, he says, you know, she’s very simple about Mrs. Park. And I think that’s part of what you’re supposed to take away, is does she even have the brains enough to be a villain? You know, she’s just she has very simple concerns. And it’s she’s not plotting necessarily anything.

S1: She’s actually very trusting. And it reminded me a little bit of the relationship between Jeff Bezos and his girlfriend’s brother. He famously just, you know, he would go out for dinner with his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s brother and he would totally trust the brother not to screw him over or sell this scandalous story to the National Enquirer because he’s so rich that he can afford to just trust everyone around him.

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S3: He’s actually said that explicitly. Jeff Bezos, he doesn’t think it’s worth his time to not trust people.

S2: Yeah, she has very specific criteria, though, for trusting, which is like she trusts when someone she knows has told her to trust. So, you know, the fact that Mint is introducing her to the Kim family and then each person introduces, introduces, introduces, knowing that they that they wouldn’t be accepted right off the street. It has to be some kind of personal connection, is all part of it.

S1: And the wonderful scam the the Kim family plays, it’s very like Ponzi esque in order to persuade them to hire the mother as the housekeeper, where they’re like, you know, I don’t know if you’re up to our standards to trust you with. One of our stuff is amazing housekeepers. And you need to send us all of your financial information and proof of income. And can you send us the deed to your house? That’s what you think the grift is, right? You’re kind of convinced that’s how the movie is going to go. And it’s going to be like they’re going to take over the finances of the family and it’s going to be some kind of like trading places type situation where they they become rich and the powerful. But no, no, it doesn’t work out that way at all. But that grift is smart and totally takes advantage of the naturally trusting, gullible nature of Mrs. Park. For sure.

S2: It’s actually a completely how it works with rich people, which is like it’s only cool if it’s super exclusive and hard to get in, even if it’s completely worthless. You know, this is the history of country clubs in America. You’re just going to be playing golf with your neighbor. But as long as someone is excluded, then it must be good.

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S3: And they say a few times, like they say, that the parks are gullible, that Mrs. Park is simple. And then there’s a great conversation that the Kims have. They have a few of them where they sort of talk about how having a lot of money kind of. Makes you nice and they actually call being wealthy, like having an iron, it just smoothes out the creases, like when you have a lot of money. Life is easy. And, of course, you’re more trusting because like when there’s a bump in the road and we all know this, we’ve all had a little money in our lives, not a ton, not park level, but having a little money makes it a lot easier to do stuff always like from health care to like ordering food in the pandemic to working in like the pandemic really did. You’re so right. Reinforce all of that. But having money gives you grace. But you just can’t have your poor.

S1: Yeah. If you’re scammed out of a hundred bucks and you’re rich, it’s like your quality of life does not change. If you’re scammed out of a hundred bucks and you put it like your quality of life can be devastated. And I think that’s part of why you can afford to be trusting Jeff Bezos. Does that wonderful line for Mrs. Kim where she talks about this book and she says she’s not rich, but still nice. She’s nice because she’s rich. Because if I had all that money, I’d be nice, too.

S3: Yeah, exactly. You can afford to be nice. Then they prove it, too, because like my thought, when the woman was begging her, let my husband stay in the bunker, I was kind of like, yeah, let him stay. Like, what’s the big deal? You know what I mean? But it’s not like that. When you’re poor and you’re that desperate, you’re scared to give up any kind of like leverage you have. And she said, no, she was like, hell no, I’m going to call the cops or whatever she would have done. Like she wasn’t going to be that nice or generous.

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S1: And the one time they did one nice thing, which is like letting the old housekeeper in the door, that’s what made them in the US. Right. Like that was what they shouldn’t have done is that one nice thing showed that one little piece of compassion.

S3: I don’t know. I did have that issue when I was like, just let them stay. None of this could have all just gone very it could have been so fine

S1: if there had been some class solidarity. If the working class you had shown solidarity with each other and said, let’s all just, you know, share this food, share this abundance,

S3: let’s milk this cow for all it’s got,

S2: it wouldn’t have worked. That guy in the basement was never going to let it wasn’t going to work that.

S1: Yeah. Lock a man up in the basement for four years. He’s not going to he’s not going to be like a nice cooperative worker.

S2: There’s also just this kind of you know, one of the things that the madam, you know, Mrs. Parks says to Jessica is like, oh, you know, you have a lot to learn about people because, like, she believes that she knows like what how people really are and what people really think. And she herself, I think the only power that she really has and knows is spending money, you know, and like when she’s paying the new tutor, she pays him more than she paid the old, even though it’s been like, what, a week? Because she’s, like adjusting for inflation and like with the service that where they’re going to get the new housekeeper when the when the father gives over the card and they’re like, oh, the card is so classy. It’s like she believes that paying more is her power. And then that’s how she’s exercising. It is to spend. Yes. Not even realizing it. She’s like what she’s buying into.

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S3: What about when she eats all the Ramdin? She first she says to Mrs. Kim, she’s like, do you want some? And then she’s like, actually, no. It has sirloin in it and then just eats all of it in front of her. That really got to me. It looked delicious.

S2: Yeah. Sirloins too good for the health, don’t you know.

S3: Think of the health sirloin. I was like little do you know, they just ate all your food and had it in front of you while you were gone.

S1: I did read up on this dish, which is this bizarre combination of two pretty sort of low and Korean sort of food in a packet type things. But of course, because it’s the pork family, it has to be used up with sirloin, even though it’s really just being made because it’s the four year old’s favorite junk food

S2: lamda good and udon

S3: they made up the name to, according to my Wikipedia research, my deep dive into Wikipedia.

S1: Well, they made up they made up the English translation. But the actual this is a real thing. Yeah. In Korea, there’s a lot of untranslatable things which they just needed to sort of translate somehow. The, you know, the Grand Korean University became Oxford,

S3: not Harvard, because APF

S2: and also I mean, I think, you know, the Kim family, I don’t know, as you said, Emily. I don’t know what the park family father does. It’s unclear if he’s, like, great at his job or not. You know, it doesn’t really matter. But I do think it’s really interesting that the Kim family is very talented and the daughter photo shops the thing, and they have this way of basically like code switching themselves into this, you know, more upper crusty like the sun has not finished college, but he has no trouble convincing someone that he’s fit to. A tutor, and he’s coaching his own parents. This is good. Yeah, exactly. And he coaches his father, like on the level of emotion to bring as the chauffeur, like what is interviewing. And, you know, there’s a lot of talent there. They really, you know, they all have something going for them.

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S1: The father is an excellent driver. The mother is an Olympic level shot putter or whatever it was.

S2: That’s right. You want a medal for her country?

S3: She’s amazing.

S1: OK, they have been gifted by Bong Joon Ho with an abundance of skills in in a way that is it feels like he’s kind of putting a thumb on the scales a bit. Right. Because that is not necessarily a lot of people in that situation, just through no fault of their own, have no ability to suddenly accumulate that level of sophistication and skill. What are

S2: you saying? What are you saying?

S1: I’m saying I’m saying that I’m saying that the park’s leverage. Right. I’m saying the parks have accumulated zero skills between them. Right. And have to just be parasitical on this. Well, the servants, like, you know, have positively Protestant levels of industriousness and technique. And they have great grifts and they have amazing language skills and they can deal with four year old kids and they can drive Mercedes and they can do world level sports. Like, you know, it’s it’s a very stark distinction. Yes.

S2: And you find it not believable?

S1: Well, nothing. Anything, anything or nothing in this movie is believable. But it’s a parable, right? That’s what it is.

S2: Yes. I think it’s completely accurate as a parable to have skills without access. That’s the story of everything is.

S1: Yeah, I mean, it totally exists. It totally happens. It would also be a story like no skills as a

S2: black woman in America. This is this is like this is accurate.

S3: Yeah. I mean, we just need to look to Ivanka Trump and but what I was going to say is it’s interesting to me that this movie, which is so perceptive about class and which portrays the Kim family, poor family and such a great as really smart and skilled and hard working as I believe most low income people who are trapped in the lower classes in America are. But it’s interesting that it took a Korean filmmaker showing Korean society and how stratified the class structure is to be a hit in the U.S. And I’m wondering, like a movie like this doesn’t get made the same way in the U.S., like in the U.S., the poor family wouldn’t be portrayed in that way, like you’re talking about. I don’t think Felix where they’re like super smart and hardworking and scrappy, like there’s always some other weird elements of like racism and classism that get kind of messed up in there. I just think it’s notable that this takes place in Korea, not in the US. Right.

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S1: The one that brought to mind, as I mentioned earlier, was trading places, right? Definitely. You know, the smartest guy in the film is the penniless black guy, Billy Ray Valentine, who turns out to be the sort of hero and mastermind of the whole thing. It is a Trovan, the American movies. But it’s not it’s never quite as cutting

S3: as it is here. Yeah. And in the American movie, the poor family would be victorious, like the fantasy ending would have been the real ending. If this was an American Hollywood story. Right. They would be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But this movie is just like, no, that’s not how it works, which I don’t think they could have done it if it was an American film necessarily.

S1: Yeah, because if you have that level of cunning and intelligence and fundamental goodness in an American movie, that needs to be rewarded somehow in the end with. Yeah. With some

S2: victory. Yeah. Because we have a myth of Protestant work ethic and industriousness here that we feel the need to perpetuate the slogan.

S1: The sort of emotional heart of the movie happens at the shelter where they wind up after they’re flooded out. And Mr. Kim says to his kid, basically the only plan that ever works is no plan, because if you make a plan, it’s all going to get fucked up. We’re not rich enough to be able to afford plans. You know, the plans are for the rich, basically.

S3: That is so true, though. I think of that a lot with like financial planning and like everyone used to save for retirement and don’t look at your investments. And then that’s for rich people like other people need to spend their money right away. You can’t afford to have a long term financial plan for your retirement if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. Plans really are definitely are for the rich kindness and plans, right?

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S2: Yeah. And I mean, I think also just the fact that, like, the thing that does the men is this kind of we’ll call it an act of God. You know, the rain, which is nobody’s fault but effects these two families very differently, is also just again, like the pandemic, like Hurricane Katrina, like anything that you can think of. Where the inequality becomes a recognizable crisis level, even though it’s been there all along, and I think that’s part of the like, you can’t make plans, you know, because at any moment, like, it could rain too hard and you can be homeless, you know what I mean?

S3: And then it’s an example of structural inequality, too, because it’s everywhere, the rich people live up high and the poor people live down low, and you literally see that in the rain sequence as they’re running back to their house and they just keep going down stairs lower and lower and lower and lower until they’re like going through it. The water is like up to their chests, you know, it’s like and then the next day. But the parks come home and they’re like actually was great that it rained because it really like cleared away the pollution. It’s such a beautiful day today and it’s just like, you know, and it’s all baked in. And the same thing in Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, all the rich people lived, you know, in like the Garden District high up and the poor people live lower down and got flooded out. So, I mean, it’s

S1: always been that way of the rich and poor for millennia.

S3: We read that book about plagues and viruses and everything. Yes. The Charles County book. And there is that bit about malaria in the colonies. And rich people didn’t get malaria as much because they lived higher up. So there weren’t as many mosquitoes around as for the poorer classes. And they also drank gin and tonics and the tonic water had quinine in it. And so, like, they didn’t get diseases.

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S1: It’s so easy. It literally, in the case of at least three quarters of the family, is effortless to live this life of complete insulation from home. And, you know, until some crazy headline grabbing news event happens

S3: to you, I don’t know if you remember, but when the Kims are having their party because the parks have gone camping, Mrs. Kim says to her husband, the husband’s kind of like bragging and like imagining they could actually live in this house, in the sun or marry into the family, blah, blah, blah. And the wife says to the poor husband, Mr. Kim, she’s like, give me a break. What if the parks came home right now? What would you do? It would be like turning on the light and the cockroaches scatter underneath back into the shadows. She literally says that to him and he gets mad, which, yes, first of all, telegraphs you exactly what’s about to happen. Did not notice that the first time I watched it. And then second of all, I don’t know if he got really mad when she said that to him and then they played it off like he was joking. But I kind of felt like it was foreshadowing what comes later when Mr. Park, in the awful last scene, kind of sniffs the air because he can smell Mr. Kim smell and it sets him off. It’s like the humiliation of being compared to a cockroach or being described as smelling badly, like someone who rides the subway. He’s like right on the edge of that humiliation.

S1: We need to talk about smell, though. They tell me about the role of smell in this movie.

S2: I think there are a lot of different things going on. You know, they don’t even shut their windows when the fumigation comes through because it’s free fumigation. So, of course, they’re going to have some kind of smell. I mean, this is like they’re living on the edge, you know? I mean, I think the scene the Emily is talking about is also like it has the layer of the unspoken layer, which is that the daughter would never marry like the tutor or they wouldn’t allow it. And the fact that each set of parents is looking out for their children. But there will never be upward mobility for the Kims and their kids are not only still living with them, but not even marriage. Is it possible? You know what I mean? Like a possible way out into some generational wealth, I think is super interesting. But the smell, I think, is just its symbolism. It is symbolism for the dirty unwashed masses. But I also think I mean, they live in this glass house and they have all the fruit plates, as you were saying, and they’re living a world of like heightened senses where everything is like lush and rich and you’re using all your senses. And these other people, like they can afford to use all their senses. You know, they have to let the fumigation in and deaden their taste buds or whatever else and coat them in the in like what they’re can get for free.

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S3: It’s true. And even the sounds in that house, the sound of everyone’s slippers as the housekeepers shuffling around, it was pretty heightened and interesting to me.

S2: Yeah. I just felt like the picture window and the lighting and the fruit and the light that comes out of the refrigerator, you know, and all these things are just like it’s so lush the way that they live. And it’s like it’s just another way of showing the stark disparity because it’s very like monochrome. Down in the basement where the Kims are.

S3: The sun doesn’t shine there at all.

S2: No, sun doesn’t shine and you can’t get wi fi.

S1: Well, one thing that struck me about that whole sort of layer of the movie was the way in which Mr. Park, the patriarch, he says quite explicitly at one point, like the smell itself, crosses the line. Like if you come into my house, if you come into my car and you have that smell to you, then that’s too much. That’s too close because smell does that. And of course, the kid is the only one who notices that they’re all to do. They all smell the same. You don’t realize this. And the. Fiction that everyone is trying to perpetuate within both families is this idea the poor aren’t really that poor that they’re rich enough to not smell. And so the Kim family is trying very hard to not smell. It’s the smell differently. The park family is trying very hard to just, you know, live this life where they never need to so much to smell the ball. And it reminded me a little bit of what’s currently happening with the minimum wage and with wage inflation, where, like there’s a certain sense of entitlement among certain types of America or economists or whatever, saying like, oh, you know, price inflation is bad because it something something inflation is bad when really what it is, it’s poor people who provide the sandwiches or the health care or whatever it is you’re consuming, getting paid a decent wage. And if you pay people a decent wage to provide these things and you’re going to have to pay a little bit more for it and you want to be able to pretend that these things just magically appear and made by like people who are not living on the edge of poverty even when they clearly are.

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S3: Yeah, you want poor people to stay invisible, but out of sight, very low. You don’t want to smell them. You don’t want to see them. That’s like the promise of capitalism, basically. Right. You don’t want to have to reckon with the cost. And the cost is humans being treated less than human. That’s always been the cost. Right.

S1: And of course, the person who has the worst smell of all we discover at the end of the movie is the guy who’s been living in the basement for the past four years. And in a way like maybe that’s the one like piece of solidarity we see in the film. It’s Mr. Kim Looks, Mr. Park just barely being able to pick up the body to grab the car keys and not being able to abide the smell. And that’s the thing that finally sets him off. Let Mr. Kim feels that like that reaction of Mr. Park to the smell of the guy who’s been living in the basement for the past four years is so revealing of his character and how he thinks about all poor people. He’s like, well, as a poor person, I’m going to retaliate at this point.

S3: Oh, my gosh, Felix. I didn’t realize he he snapped because Mr. Park was smelling the basement guy. I thought he snapped because Mr. Park was smelling Mr. Kim. Huh. Yeah, that is some class solidarity right there. Although the matriarch, Mrs. Kim, did kill him with a meat skewer.

S1: Speaking of food, do not mess with Mrs. Kim. And she is not to be messed with.

S3: No, she was I think she’s like a low key Mrs. Kim and the former housekeeper. They’re like the low key heroes of the film. Like she kind of had her wits about her the whole time. I realized I didn’t catch this myself, but I was reading something. And there’s a scene where the Kims are all drinking beer together. They’ve just gotten some money, the son and the daughter and the father all drinking like expensive beer. But the mother is still drinking the cheaper beer. She kind of is keeping her wits about her in a way that maybe the father kind of isn’t like he does say later, you can’t have plans. But in the beginning, he was all for plans. You know, I just I don’t know. She seems like more practical, grounded.

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S2: Her job is by far the hardest, you know, running the entire household where the driving is intermittent and the tutoring and the art therapy are kind of like on an hourly basis. And but she has more of a 24/7 power position. And in fact, that’s part of the downfall of everything, because that’s what allows pitches into the house, you know, and you know what I mean? Because she’s kind of the gatekeeper for the entire house. And so once she’s in charge, I mean, she’s the true woman of the house because Mrs. Park is only as powerful as whoever is her housekeeper.

S3: Very true. And her kids screwed it up and husband screwed the whole thing up when they tripped and fell into the bunker and gave their whole position away. Yeah, I’ve gone a lot differently. They lost their footing, literally.

S1: Let me ask you about the whole idea. The money buys happiness. The park family is clearly much more comfortable than the Kims. They can smoothly drive the, you know, air conditioned Porsche over any bumps in the road without barely feeling them. And they have

S2: babies. It’s a Mercedes,

S1: sorry to say this, and they have that cocoon that they live in and the Kims are struggling in subterranean. And yet there does seem to be this kind of I don’t know which family would you say was the happy family?

S3: I say money absolutely does buy happiness. I think we’ve talked about it. It buys kindness. It buys grace. When the Kims do get a little bit of money, they have their little party and they’re in their own. Apartment where they have the chips and the beer and they’re super happy because they got some money, so yes, I don’t buy the line like money can’t buy you happiness. Of course it does. You know, to go to a point.

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S2: Oh, no, go ahead. I why? I think they’re both miserable in different ways. And I think that there is look, they’re enjoying themselves. Happiness is like a true inner emotion. No one in this movie has any happiness. The mother is like distraught and crying all the time that I mean, Mrs. Park, despite being rich, she is completely alienated from her children when she does have some kind of, like, intimate moment with her husband. They don’t even face each other. They keep their pajamas on. I don’t think that there’s any kind of like joy there. You know, comfort. Yes, happiness. I don’t think so. And I think the moment that you’re talking about for the Kim family, again, they have some it’s like they have a fun time drinking. They’re sitting there with anxiety about being discovered. They’re talking about what would happen if the family comes home and they’re kind of focused on, like, how do we keep this and not lose it? And so there is no room for happiness because there’s like it comes with a fear. They have one night of, like, sitting around a table drinking. And I don’t think that’s necessarily happiness. And they were doing that when they were poor. They ate dinner together then, too. We don’t ever really see the parks eat a whole meal together as a family, which is something that the Kims do. And I just think they’re both kind of miserable. And with one, there’s like a bathtub and with the other there’s like a toilet that you can’t use the ceiling, different kinds of misery. But I do think, you know, the reason that the sun puts the wealth rock in a stream, like if he thought money brought happiness, he would keep it. You know, he tries to, like, return it to the Earth because it’s like it hasn’t brought anything good.

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S3: I mean, that was powerful. I can’t really dispute it. I’m just going to let it be.

S1: And nothing don’t fight the dodo man.

S3: I promise. A long time ago. Yeah. I can’t fight it.

S2: And the thing is, I don’t have we talked about their talent and skills. And I think the Sun says to Jessica, like, oh, you know, you could be a great con artist, but they don’t even want to you know, they don’t want to, like, completely bilk people out of their, like, straight up crime is like not their goal, you know. And so they’re trying to find some kind of pseudo honest means. But it’s not like it’s bringing them happiness.

S3: There is some joy in the pursuit and the little wins,

S1: in fact, like the whole sort of MacGuffin. Right. Which gets revealed two thirds of the way through the film that there was this bombshell to built into the house that the great architect was too embarrassed to admit existed when he sold the house is a you know, it’s a physical manifestation of paranoia and embarrassment and the way that even when you have something as magnificent as this, there’s always something to be ashamed of there and

S2: fear of losing it, a fear of losing the house. And then maybe it’s to interlopers, maybe it’s to nuclear war. I mean, it’s also that it’s Korea and and there are literally like fifty miles away from North Korea when you live in Seoul. And I think that the fact that it’s there and that there’s someone in it is also indicative of like, are you living comfortably with this? There’s like an escape route just in case, you know, how happy can you be if you’re afraid you might have to go underground.

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S3: It is also like every dream I ever had when I lived in New York City of having a secret room or a secret bunker or whatever.

S2: I’m behind a bookcase

S1: in your pocket. There’s more there’s more square footage.

S3: Well, I’d be really mad if no one told the architect I bought my house from. Didn’t tell me about a huge bunker. What the hell? That’s a selling point.

S1: Yeah. That has to be included in the price per square foot somehow. Otherwise you’re not maximizing.

S2: It’s also just really interesting that it was so hard to open. You know, it wasn’t like, oh, and you just push a button and you like slip into this thing. It’s like you need it to go up a wall and like, put you know, there was it was like a whole endeavor just to, like, get in there. And then they lost the thing that you could wind it. I mean, it was it was like the hardest. There were it was a lot of drama going on with entering and exiting and closing off the.

S1: But you’re absolutely right. In the real world, that would just be a button right for you. You’d put the book on the bookcase and there was like magically open.

S2: Yeah, exactly. It was like way too involved for these. I mean, can you imagine? What is she like for Levin, if Mrs. Park had to try to get in there for like she’s like this tiny thing, how would she push that? I mean, anyway, just saying,

S1: well, that was the it was that it had got stuck because something had fallen underneath. And that’s why the guy in the basement couldn’t escape on his own to come up and get food. And he was slowly starving to death.

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S2: Yeah, but if but if a bomb had been launched, then the park family wouldn’t have been able to get in there either.

S1: Exactly. Yeah. Badly designed bomb bassman, Mr. Nam and celebrated the you know, the building looks great otherwise, but we’ll give you a demerit for the design of the basement. That’s there was far too steep. You’re trying to go down there in the panic, but you’ll fall down, you crack your head.

S2: Yeah, I was designed to give concussion

S1: heaven forfend you should have like a, you know, a peach allergy or something. Wow. So overall, how would you rate this movie? Where does it stand in your personal pantheon?

S2: This movie is an eight plus. I think that the theme Rich People are naive is also an A plus in my mind and illustrated quite well by this film. And I just I was really a joy to watch it again. I was even knowing what would happen. I was on the edge of my seat, as Emily said, and I felt very tense and it’s really great. And I think that what it does is enable these kind of discussions that we should be having in this country, but sometimes get bogged down in other things like colonisation of indigenous people and race. And there’s so complicated. And this kind of like makes it simple like of have and have nots. And that inequality is really so stark and really sad.

S1: I totally agree on the plus in terms of the distinction between this movie and American movies. I think the really interesting comparison is with Okja, which apparently cost five times as much as parasite to make. And it was the movie that Bong Dongjun Home-Made before Parasite and also tries to interrogate difficult moral questions about like how we treat animals and how we treat nature and all of this kind of thing. But it’s a little bit of a mess, to be honest. And I think exactly what you’re saying about American movies and the way they come draw this kind of tight of a bead on the on the issues that they’re trying to deal with is something that Bong Joon-ho himself discovered when he started making movies in English in America for Netflix, and that he needed to go back to Korea to make this one.

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S3: Although Snowpiercer is a great film about class and it involved

S1: it’s a good film about it’s not a plus film about it’s like it’s like a film about. It’s a really good movie.

S3: I don’t know.

S1: I mean, Ed Harris is kind of good, but like.

S3: Yeah, well, you didn’t ask. But I’ll tell you that I agree that this is in a movie. Four stars, five whatever. Excellent. Six, ten, one hundred stars. Inflation being what it is over the past few minutes and the portrayal of class conflict and wealth inequality is so great and so clear, but it’s so specific to these people. That’s what I liked a lot about it. It wasn’t preachy or like did you, like, made a joke about it? Because they kept saying very metaphorical about various things that weren’t really that metaphorical. But the whole movie is super metaphorical. And yet at the same time, it’s so specific to these individual characters and no one comes across to me anyway as a caricature. Maybe the basement guy, but not even the basement guy. They all come across as individuals and humans

S2: and so forth. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. It’s so deep.

S3: It’s really deep. Everyone is a person. It’s like one of the rare movies about class and inequality where everyone gets to be fully human. And you can’t say that about Snowpiercer. I don’t think I would have to go back and watch it, but I don’t think I don’t think you can say the same for that.

S1: I don’t think anyone gets to be fully human and no bias.

S3: No, I want to watch it now. It’s so good.

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S1: Doti Stewart, thank you for coming on. We needed you for this one. We are very happy that we alighted on the perfect combination of two in Paris.

S2: I thank you for having me. It’s a thrill to talk about this film because it’s just it’s so great.

S1: It’s a great movie.

S3: Thanks for picking a movie from the recent past. Some people are picking from old stuff.

S1: I’ll just say, yeah, it’s more recent than nineteen forty eight, so we’ll give you that one day. That’s it for Paris next week. We’re going back in time again. We’re going to be talking to Ben Smith of The New York Times about the Great Citizen Kane.