November, 2019. David Kramer holding Frederic Jameson’s The Political Unconscious at the Little Theater. From Parasite at The Little: What would Frederic Jameson see? (December 11th, 2019)
Today, The New York Time‘s printed Michelle Goldberg’s “Class War At the Oscars: The triumph of Parasite is a sign of a crisis of faith in capitalism,” a column on the Oscar winning film Parasite.
In her essay, Goldberg analyzes the movie from a Marxist or neo-Marxist perspective, concluding: “Maybe Parasite has struck such a chord because for too many people inequality is turning modern capitalism into not just a joke but a nightmare.”
At the risk of sounding churlish¹, Michelle, I’m tempted to ask, did you read our Parasite at The Little: What would Frederic Jameson see?, a review informed by the neo-Marxist critic Frederic Jameson’s The Political Unconscious? The conclusions, chosen scenes and even diction ring familiar.
Compare a few passages:
The politics of Parasite are only marginally more subtle [than Snowpiercer]. Parasite tells the story of a poor family, the Kims, who insinuate themselves into the home and lives of a rich family, the Parks. First the Kims’ son, Ki-woo, fakes university papers to become a tutor to the Parks’ daughter. He manipulates them into hiring his sister as a high-end art therapist for the Parks’ hyperactive son. The siblings then get the Parks to replace the family chauffeur with their father and the meticulous housekeeper with their mother.
“Class War At the Oscar: The triumph of Parasite is a sign of a crisis of faith in capitalism,”
In the first half of the movie the Ki-taeks ingratiate themselves into, or takeover, the Park household . . . To realize this unlikely scenario, the Ki-taek son must first successfully forge a document proving he is a university student and then unflinchingly act the role. Then the daughter must chance upon a google page fitting perfectly her diagnosis that the Park son suffers from schizophrenia and needs art therapy – as she fakes graduating from the University of Illinois. The daughter must leave her panties in the back seat of a cab supposedly indicting the driver as a womanizer and drug addict. The family can somehow pose as a business catering only to the very upper crust. The Park’s housekeeper must appear to have tuberculosis when peach fuzz is dropped on her neck.
It’s the stink of that flat that comes close to giving Ki-taek, the Kim patriarch, away. The Parks smell it on him. His place in the economic hierarchy is a material reality that has nothing to do with skill or competence; it sticks to him.
The possibly schizophrenic son announces that the Ki-taek’s all smell the same . . . Furthermore, their collective smell – at one point the Park father mentions the persistent unsavory radish smell emanating from the Ki-taek father – seems to mark their destiny as permanent members of the working classes.
Parasite at The Little: What would Frederic Jameson see?
At the film’s end, after a spasm of murderous violence, infamy and grief, the Kims’ son makes a “fundamental plan” to grow rich enough to save his father. There’s a gauzy sequence where this seems to be actually playing out, and “Parasite” briefly dangles the prospect of a Hollywood ending. Only in the last shot is it clear that it’s a fantasy and that he’s stuck right where he began.
The movie ends with what for a moment appears to be a happy future: the son becomes wealthy, buys the Park home and reunites with his father. But the son’s daydream is only a fantasy within a fantasy . . . The son’s daydream of owning the house itself is not presented as an alternative to the Parks but the manifestation of his own conditioned desire for property and wealth.
I didn’t expect a citation or attribution unnecessary for Op-Ed columns. Nonetheless, Michelle, glad you see Parasite as would Frederic Jameson.
¹ Reader Leslie Kramer writes:
The article makes you seem petty as all intellectuals sometimes read each others work and have similar ideas.