As a depiction of ordinary people who fall into an unavoidable commotion, this film is:
a comedy without clowns,
a tragedy without villains,
all leading to a violent tangle and a headlong plunge down the stairs.
You are all invited to this unstoppably fierce tragicomedy.
—Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho
Parasite. The very word evokes insults from both extremes of economic disparity. The wealthy see those in poverty as parasites, leeching off taxes from their hard-earned money through “entitlements,” such as Medicaid, welfare, and ever- shrinking food stamps. Those in poverty see the wealthy as parasitic, taking advantage of a system rigged in their favor while the poor serve them by taking on jobs the rich consider beneath them.
Who’s the Parasite?
So, who is the true parasite? In his brilliant Academy Award-winning film Parasite, Korean director Bong Joon Ho explores but never fully answers this question, leaving it up to audiences to interpret. In Parasite, we meet the cunning Kim family, who live in abject poverty in a back alley basement apartment. Despite hard work, talent, and intellectual prowess, they never seem to get ahead until a friend of high school student Ki-woo recommends him for a tutoring position with the wealthy Parks family. His sister Ki-jeong forges his credentials to land him the position, sparking a myriad of deceptions that result in the eventual employ of several members of the Kim clan, at a brutal and heartbreaking cost.
One could argue the parasitic qualities of both the Parks and the Kims. The Kims leech off the Parks’ wealth, entering their home and their hearts through pretense and outright lies in order to raise their family’s fortune. On the other hand, the Parks too have parasitic qualities, unable to cook, clean, or drive themselves without relying on members of the working classes to do what they cannot or will not do for themselves. Disparaging the rich by the poor and vice versa, however, is nothing new.
Prosperity to the Poor
In ancient Israel and other cultures of antiquity, wealth has been viewed as a sign of God’s favor. However, in the book of Ecclesiastes, Israel’s wisest and wealthiest king declared,
Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers.
—Ecclesiastes 5:10, NLT
Job, whose wealth slipped through his fingers on one tragic day, speaks of God’s love and protection for the poor.
He gives prosperity to the poor and protects those who suffer. He rescues the poor from the cutting words of the strong, and rescues them from the clutches of the powerful.
—Job 5:11, 15, NLT
In the New Testament, Jesus not only cared for the poor, he became poor. Shedding his divine nature and the splendors of heaven, he took on our flesh and walked our sod. Forsaking the most glorious of dwelling places, the son of man chose to have no place to lay his head. The King of Kings took the role of servant and washed lowly fishermen’s feet.
“She always knew not to cross the line”
In contrast, the Parks treat their employees with thinly veiled contempt, and this contempt is returned. Unfortunately, this mutual disdain between the classes has crept into the church, augmented by the rise of so-called prosperity preachers who promote the idea that physical and financial well- being are signs of God’s favor. One such example, author and preacher Joel Osteen, leads the largest church in the United States, boasting a weekly attendance of over 50,000 parishioners. In 2014, in a sermon entitled, “Have an Abundance Mentality,” Osteen had this to say:
If I brought my two children up on the platform today and their clothes were all raggedy, worn out, holes in their shoes, hair not combed, you would look at me and think, ‘What kind of father is he?’ It’d be a poor reflection on me.
Listen, when you look good, dress good, live in a nice place, excel in your career, generous with others, that brings a smile to God’s face. It brings Him pleasure to prosper you.
Osteen’s preaching has drawn its share of criticism from both believers and non-Christians, but the preemptive rebuke courtesy of Jesus’s brother James says it best:
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well,doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?
—James 2:1-4, NLT
Money: The Root of All Evil?
Though Parasite has been called “leftist propaganda” and worse, Hoon Jo highlights the bad behavior of the greedy, impoverished Kims. The Bible, after all, calls “love of money” the root of many kinds of evil, not money itself (1 Timothy 6:10) and the web of lies and betrayal spun by the Kims shows that poverty was no talisman against loving money above life itself.
The Christian Response
Christians should not view anyone, rich or poor, as parasites: God made all humans in his likeness, from the unwanted unborn child to the world’s richest sheik. Jesus showed the same honor and respect to wealthy tax collector Zaccheus as he did to blind beggar Bartimaeus. His followers included rich and poor alike, religious leaders and Samaritans, Jews and Gentiles.
When Jesus returns for his church, he will judge us based on how we treated those others might view as parasites: The hungry. Thirsty. Strangers. Naked. Sick. Prisoners. (Even the rich.) At the final judgment, he will proclaim, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” —Matthew 25:20, NLT