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By Francesco Felici
From Parasite to a parasite, that is how the global focus has shifted in these first months of the nefarious 2020.
At first, the world was amazed by the unprecedented success of this relatively niche Korean movie, Parasite by Bong Joon-ho. The movie not only won the 72nd edition of the Festival of Cannes, but it also became the first non-english production to win four Oscars, including best film. Not bad I must say. Unfortunately, just weeks later another parasite ramped on into the spotlight, with the breaking of the novel Coronavirus infecting over 200.000 people in the span of just two months, bringing the world into quarantine.
However, these two “parasites” share a similar menacing truth: they inherit flaws of the capitalist system which now more than ever is exposing its true unnatural features.
Indeed, the movie Parasite ultimately revolves around the struggle of classes. The director himself claimed that the inspiration for this movie came from his own personal experience. When he was in College, the director recall working for this very rich family as a personal tutor, and he harnessed that feeling of disparity and lust that he felt while working for that family in their luxurious house.
The movie, production of which began in 2015, was initially supposed to be a relatively light-hearted story of a poor family entering this extremely rich environment, sort of like a Korean Fresh Prince of Bel Air premise. However, as many films by Bong Joon-ho, it ended up being a more grim and drastically realistic take of class disparity.
Parasite revolves around the Kim, an extremely poor family of four who takes on the most demeaning jobs just to get along. Everything changes when, thanks to a mutual friend of Ki-woo (the youngest son), he is introduced to a very wealthy family that needs an English tutor for their daughter, the Park family.
Once Ki-woo is inside, he and the rest of the Kim slowly con their way into the Park family to become their helper and to raise some much needed cash. However, even though at first everything to run smoothly for the Kim’s, tragedy struck when they discover that they are not the only one who are living of the back of the Park’s wealth. The rest of the plot will not be disclosed here but the only thing left to know is that Parasite has already become a must-watch among multi-awarded film productions of the decade.
As I stated before, the movie revolves around class struggle. However, Parasite has a subtle way of guiding us audience towards that. Indeed, Bong Joon-ho masterfully crafts all the characters to be relatable albeit flawed.
Our protagonists – the Kim family – are not a pitiful bunch of helpless people who deserve our sympathy; they are con artists who are tricking another family for their own personal gain. On the other hand, the Parks which should be our “antagonists” are not a mustache-twirling villain who frowns upon the poor, they are just a very rich family that. although it a bit disconnected with the reality, are not in any way mean.
Thus, by presenting the characters in this way, we do not have a fully fledged antagonist. We do not have someone to root against, even though we feel that something is wrong and unfair. That is, the ludicrous gap of wealth between the Kim and the Park, and the realization that we cannot blame these people for acting the way they act, for they are molded by their social status. As an audience we feel disturbed watching to what length the Kims are willing to go to in order to save their scheme, as well as realizing how helpless and naïve the Park are in this struggle between classes.
Parasite shows us that at this point in our history the evolution of capitalism has made it so that inside of society we have a complete alienation between higher and lower classes, that when brought together act as if they inhabit in different realities.
Now, with the outbreak of the novel Covid-19 this very class disparity may expose the fatal flaw of capitalism.
Indeed, the spreading of this virus is nothing short of dreadful. Let us not be fooled by its low-risk of mortality (around 2-3%), because the very risk of this novel Covid-19 relies elsewhere. In the span of just a couple of weeks, the Coronavirus has plunged the stock markets into chaos, and has forced most of the Western nations to issue severe lockdown which will inevitably have ripple effects in the coming year. However, even though the image of stock market losing dozens of percentage points by the day is staggering, the devil lies elsewhere.
Let us take into example the United State of America, the front runner of capitalism. At first, president Donald Trump with all of his swagger deemed the threat of Covid-19 as mild, only to close all the boarders with the EU in the span of weeks after many of the predominant federal states such as Massachusetts and New York declared the state of emergency. Now the situation in the US is rapidly turning, similarly to what happened to Italy with the country slowly going into a preemptive lockdown.
However, given the notorious private health care system in America, the situation may well become tragic. If we take into account that roughly 10% of the American population does not have a healthcare plan, and most of the population holds a very basic one that does not cover hospitalization, and a full day in a hospital without insurance costs around 4000$ per person. Furthermore, if we consider that a scary feature of this Covid-19 is that if a patience suffers of violent symptoms, it requires almost two weeks of hospitalization and severe treatment to defeat the virus, it is easy to see how we have right here a receipt for disaster.
Just to give an example, it speaks volume the case of Frank Wucinski and his 3-years-old daughter Annabel. They were among the Americans that were flown back from Wuhan at the beginning of the pandemic and put into quarantine. Indeed, Mr. Wucinski has lived in China for several years due to his work, but he gladly came back in the US due to the virus. However, after the two weeks of mandatory quarantine, he was surprised with a medical bill of over 3000$, even though they were covered by a low-income healthcare plan called Medicaid. Not only the Wucinski contacted the town hall to ask for explanation as the quarantine was mandated by the state and received no answer, but later on they received more charges for the ambulance transport and the ex-rays for a total amount of over 7000$. Thus, this case foreshadows how the situation in the US might become more drastic as the virus spreads into the different strata of society.
This Parasite of Capitalism may very well be the much needed red flag that is going to awaken people to the inherited flaws of capitalism. When the disparity of class will ultimately lead to sanitary crisis, maybe we will be able to realize what extreme capitalism really entails. When the Kim of the world will face unbearable medical bills to protect their loved ones from this unknown virus, we will see how our system will change and adapt, or breakdown and crumble due to its own unnatural features.
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