It came without warning. My mind had slowed to a pleasant buzzing that particular Friday night, the week’s overwhelming events already beginning to fade, leaving a blank canvas in their wake. I was faced with two choices: barely brush the surface of the palette and let a familiar film soothe my nerves, or open myself up to marring the canvas with cinematic significance. Needless to say, I found Parasite that night. Parasite found me.
The story begins with a family of four living in a ramshackle apartment in modern-day South Korea and folding pizza boxes to make ends meet. When one of the children, Ki-woo, is offered a tutoring position for the extremely wealthy Park family, he gleefully accepts the position and begins working at their mansion. As the film progresses, the rest of the Kims finesse their way into working for the wealthy family and the pattern of parasitism that gives the film its name begins to reveal itself.
Although Parasite plays with familiar topics in art, whether it be greed or class inequality, it presents them in a way that feels bizarre, novel, and compelling all at once. For two hours and twelve minutes, I was transfixed. The kind of transfixed where you can’t tear your eyes away from the screen and your brain morphs into a sponge as it attempts to take in as much visual information as possible.
But as all movies do, Parasite ended. I rose from my seat thinking I’d just watched a great film, one that would receive a plethora of awards. This, I predicted correctly. What I had no way of knowing was that half an hour later, I would come to realize that this movie changed my life.
Most of my dramatic epiphany hinges on a single quote delivered by Ki-taek while he’s talking to his son: “Do you want to know how you make a foolproof plan? Don’t plan at all. Have no plan. If you plan, something will always go wrong. That’s life.” While the idea of having no expectations isn’t particularly groundbreaking, the circumstances that brought about this line make it all the more poignant.
Every time I hear someone give this piece of advice, they’re well past their days of worrying about the future and are instead living in an unwavering state of security. Advice from them does nothing to cure my anxiety about my future in journalism or writing, both notorious for being penniless industries. While these advice-givers mean well, they felt distant in the way adults do when you are a child. The difference with Ki-taek is that he has nothing left to lose when he delivers the line.
Ki-taek may be a fictional character, but his words resonated with me more than anyone else’s ever had. There was no need to keep searching for the root of my anxiety—I had found it. I’d been focusing on everything that wasn’t within my control instead of what was, careening myself into an endless cycle of unnecessary fear. The landscape of my future was dotted with unfortunate turns and perennial instability, but only through my addled lens. In reality, my future appeared just as blank as anyone else’s.
Another motif in the film that incited change in my life is tied to the Scholar Stone gifted to the Kim family at the beginning of the film. The rock is said to bring good fortune to the family that receives it, which holds true for the first half of the film and dissolves when it’s used as a tool for violence toward the end. The family’s brief run with money is initially electrifying, but does nothing to alleviate their long-term suffering.
In some convoluted way, after reflecting on the role of the Scholar Stone in the film’s exploration of wealth and greed, my battle with money slowed to a standstill. In the last couple of years, I was constantly plagued with the fear that I wasn’t making enough for someone my age. I looked to those with flourishing influencer careers or side hustles and wondered why I couldn’t manifest the same for myself.
Competition being the thief of joy aside, Parasite planted the seeds for a conversation I needed to have with myself: what would an excess of money really provide? Would I be more fulfilled? Would having more money create more problems than it would solve for someone who wasn’t living above their means?
The last piece of my reckoning took slightly longer to slide into place than the other two, but was no less impactful. Although the family unit is practically shattered by the end, the final communication that occurs between Ki-taek and Ki-woo, father and son, speaks volumes about family loyalty. Despite being unable to escape the basement of the mansion, the area of the house that becomes synonymous with parasitism, Ki-taek tries in earnest to deliver a message to his son to assure him that all is well. When Ki-woo decodes the Morse code in which the message is delivered, he can finally rest assured knowing where his father is after years of incertitude.
Although my familial situation differs greatly from that of the Kims, I came away from the film significantly more sympathetic. Growing up with traditional parents in a conservative culture, particularly against the backdrop of America, caused my resentment to fester over the years. I interpreted my parents’ care to be an intentional limitation placed on my freedom, and so our relationship was contentious.
But just as Ki-woo realized his father doesn’t always have the perfect answer to everything, I realized my parents are simply two people that fiercely love me and want nothing more than to see me safe. I’ve learned to step back from arguments and reassess who and what I’m arguing against—is it my parents or the traditional systems in place? Which “perpetrator” has always looked out for me?
I can’t promise that watching Parasite will inspire the same upheaval of lifelong beliefs in you as it did for me. Instead, I implore you to keep your mind open and brave the task of marring your canvas once in a while. The resulting splatters of color may surprise you.