It’s incredible to think how much joy and destruction one small family can inflict. Bong Joon-ho’s dark comedy thriller Parasite (2020) is held together by a strong cast and slick directing, and the take-home message is clear: bonding with your family causes death. I feel I reserve the right to criticise this cynical view of […]
It’s incredible to think how much joy and destruction one small family can inflict. Bong Joon-ho’s dark comedy thriller Parasite (2020) is held together by a strong cast and slick directing, and the take-home message is clear: bonding with your family causes death. I feel I reserve the right to criticise this cynical view of the world, and I’m sure you’ll agree that Parasite fails by focusing entirely on destruction. It’s frustrating knowing how much better the film might have been if only Joon-ho had given a more nuanced portrait of family. Take, for example, my own personal experience. Enamemates is a group of like-minded individuals, whom I consider family, that meet every Tuesday lunchtime in the basement of Riverside Quay. The meetings are the highlight of my week. We exchange notes on fingernail growing techniques, brainstorm pulley-devices and discuss the discrimination we face from the public. Nowhere during these meetings do we see anything that resembles the outlandish family-induced nightmares Joon-ho rams down our throats.
The image of Joon-ho ramming stuff down our throats is especially evocative of someone playing shotput, which leads me rather neatly to the matter of today’s review: Enamemates are currently holding their quarterly Long-Fingernail Olympics. We’re mostly a wholesome group, but four times a year we get competitive. Nobody takes it too seriously (I’m representing France, and I’m not even French!), but that’s what makes it all the more fun. Today we had the opening ceremony; it was a marvellous event where we all marched around the basement of Riverside Quay. We had flags strung up with our nails and Chris balanced the torch on the tip of his left index fingernail. Graham blasted on a green vuvuzela specially designed for people with long fingernails and Alice aggressively kicked her legs in a strange dance. Our new member, Colin, was just watching today; his fingernails are only two centimetres (bless him), which disqualifies him from all events. As much as I wouldn’t want long fingernails going mainstream, it’s nice welcoming new comrades. It’d be terribly lonely if I were the only person in the world with extremely long fingernails. However, I do intend to be partially alone when I get the world record.
Where Parasite redeems itself is the playful use of symbolism and cinematography. The leitmotif of water, representing loneliness, has a powerful presence towards the end of the film. I felt a profound sense of pathos watching the unlikable characters engulfed in the murky sewage water. It was cathartic and relatable–I sensed everyone in the audience felt the same. This alone garnered an extra star for my final score of the film (see below). The use of sound throughout is also exquisite. I watched a dubbed version and I sincerely hope, for the sake of Korean viewers, that these sounds are a product of the original. I find it fascinating how things like music and sound effects transcend all cultures to be understood on a purely instinctive level. It’s like a universal language that unites humanity which, coincidently, is also something often said about the Olympics. Disappointingly, our events won’t last very long this time. We typically like to have a week’s worth of competition, but someone’s booked the room on Saturday at 2:00pm, so we had to cancel the hurdles. Naturally, I’ve been assigned the long-fingernail discus and the long-fingernail 100 metre sprint. I’ve been training all week in the backyard with my custom-made discus I ordered from a long-fingernail specialty shop. It’s essentially an ordinary discus, but bigger and with grooves down the side for fingernails of a lengthier orientation.
To Millicent’s chagrin, I broke a few of her pot plants. I may have also killed the Boston Ferns inside. I gave her a hug and she forgave me; but it’s hard to know what she makes of the Olympics. Usually she’s very transparent with her emotions, which is convenient seeing as I’m not always the best at reading ‘hints’. It was always a problem with previous girlfriends that I couldn’t read their minds, but that hasn’t been an issue with Millie. Whenever I text her about her day at work I get paragraph after paragraph, and all the scrolling takes me a good three minutes. It’s a little awkward to scroll with my fingernails sticking out the sides of my phone, so I have to ensure there’s no furniture within a three metre radius. It’s difficult, but reading her texts is always a delight. It’s especially fun when she dramatises her conversations with the colleague she doesn’t like (Jessica). But with the Olympics she’s been a little more reticent. Lots of smiling and nodding when I talk about it over dinner. The other day we dined at a marvellous restaurant on Chapel Street (I won’t mention the name to avoid accusations of product placement), and all she gave me was a fixed look of utter bemusement. I like it when she’s mean to me, but sometimes it’d be nice to feel comfortable opening up to someone.
While the Kim family in Parasite talk to each other about their problems, I cannot claim this luxury. Sometimes I feel like the only people I can open up to are you lovely readers. I must confess, I’m a bit anxious about my events. If I’m not careful, there’s the very real possibility I might chip my fingernails, thus voiding my membership with the group. It’s happened before. After our last Olympics, we had a big funeral ceremony with a choral choir and hooded robes as we sent Ellie back to the cold world of short fingernails after an unfortunate incident on the trapeze. But I think I’ll avoid this with adequate care. I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings about Ellie’s excommunication. I was saddened, but also strangely relieved. While it was a freak accident, it also removed competition for the world record. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t deliberately sabotage my Enamemates friends by discretely clipping their nails. But what would be the point of that? I’d ruin my only friendships. I suppose I’m a bit of a hypocrite. The only reason I wanted to grow long fingernails in the first place was so I could be ‘different’ and have something I could call mine. Yet here I am, so desperately craving a sense of belonging with my Enamemates friends. I suppose that’s why I enable comments on my YouTube channel and firmly embrace feedback (thanks to everyone who enjoyed my Being John Malkovich review). While watching Parasite, I felt like it was a missed opportunity that Joon-ho didn’t address this contradiction while so much of the film explores themes of community and connectedness. Or maybe I missed the nuances in the English translation. Either way, they could have done without that silly cleaner character. I had such high hopes for this film after reading all the positive, yet misled, reviews. Hopefully my disappointment isn’t an omen for things to come, and I can bring home the gold.
“At the Movies with Brian Novak” is a movie review column by the fictitious Brian Novak, otherwise known as the real James Gordon.