The most basic story for any movie goes like this: A protagonist faces obstacles and conflict while trying to achieve a specific goal. Of course, that’s a very reductive take on narrative storytelling, but that is the skeleton most movies are built on. However, the best movies are about more than just plot; with themes and metaphors, filmmakers hold a mirror to society and use their movies as a commentary on today’s world. One of the best directors doing that today is Bong Joon-ho.
Bong has made a name for himself, in his native South Korea and throughout the entire world, with strongly metaphorical satires. The genres vary greatly—the sci-fi/horror/comedy The Host, the sci-fi/action Snowpiercer, the (very) darkly comedic Barking Dogs Never Bite—but each offers some view on modern life and society in general. But the one that has gotten the most recognition (perhaps you’ve heard of its Cannes and Oscar wins?) is Parasite.
Parasite starts of relatively simply: It’s a cutting satire about the disparity between the upper and lower classes. A poor family who lives in a Korean semi-basement cons their way into working for an upper-class family. The comedy is biting, but a twist halfway through shifts the narrative, offering a different take on typical class warfare stories. Instead of pitting poor against rich, Bong keeps the conflict and tension mostly between two working-class families, with the film’s central metaphor offering a commentary on how unaware the rich are of the struggles of those below them. That’s an important lesson for any writer: Story and plot are important, but the message is what sticks with us. Sure, people talk about how “cool” scenes in certain movies are, but the best movies have more to offer.
There are many clever moments throughout (it’s one of few movies that features weaponized peaches), but the themes and commentary are the movie’s strongest takeaway. It’s a gripping movie from start to finish, and it’s first time in years that the Oscars truly got it right. You’ll be thinking about this movie for weeks.