The missed opportunity of Parasite (2019)

tl;dr

I finally got around to watching Parasite (2019) after constantly hearing people go on and on about how great it is. I’ll admit, it was pretty good. I’d already heard about most of the aspects of the movie, but then, it wasn’t exactly supposed to be about twists and surprises. It was pretty good and certainly stirring and thought-provoking.

That said, I have one issue with the movie (aside from the raised toilet, which didn’t have a storage cabinet below it, thus making it pointless and absurdly unrealistic, regardless of its symbolic purpose). There was one thing that I felt was a wasted opportunity.

Towards the beginning, Ki Woo’s friend Min brings the family a “scholar’s stone” or suseok, a landscape-shaped rock, that is supposed to be lucky and bring the family good fortune. Later in the movie, they live it up in the Park home while the Parks are away, but then nearly get caught and overhear the Parks talking about them in disparaging ways. They barely manage to sneak out and run home, only to find their basement home flooded by sewage. At this point, their previous jovial elation is ruined and they are feeling down-trodden. There is a shot of the scholar’s stone floating out of the water and into Ki Woo’s hands.

He takes the stone with him to the school gymnasium where all the flood victims are being sheltered. Obviously people can only bring a few essentials with them to the shelter, and clearly it is meaningful that Ki Woo chose to bring a rock (which he clutches and says is actually the one clinging to him).

He then ends up using it to try to murder the former house-keeper and her husband, only to end up getting his own head bashed in with it. The rock is dripping with as much symbolism as it is Ki Woo’s blood.

And that’s all fine and good. I like the metaphors. But, the fact that the rock floated in the water (which wasn’t actually in the original script and was a later idea by the director) ended up going nowhere. It didn’t really manifest in any sort of meaningful way. At most, it’s just a loose end for the viewer to fill in the blanks with their own ideas.

When I saw the rock floating, I expected Ki Woo to crack it open to reveal that it is just foam (which the actual movie prop was), or wood or gypsum or some other non-rock material that could give it a bit of weight, but also make it non-dense enough to float. That is, have Ki Woo suddenly realize that this totem of luck was really just a fake, a worthless fraud, just like themselves. That feels more compelling and more apt for that scene. It was what I thought was about to happen, but instead, nothing happened. The rock unrealistically floated and nothing came of that unrealistic event, leaving it to just break the immersion by seeming to be magic.

Of course, some might argue that if it were actually fake, then he couldn’t have used it to try to “fix” the problem they had with the house-keeper and her husband, and moreover, couldn’t end up with his own head being smashed with it and nearly dying from it. However, that is an easy fix, and in fact, the fix makes it even more meaningful and metaphorical and symbolic.

The fix is to make it so that the rock and base remain together up until the flood. During the flood, they become separated and the rock floats, Ki Woo breaks it in half, and realizes that his hopes and dreams and everything were as false as the fake stone. Then they spend the night in the gym and his father says he’s not going to do anything about the house-keeper and her husband, just as it did happen in the movie. But afterwards, in the scene in which they are back in their home, trying to salvage what they can, Ki Woo sees the base of the rock and picks it up, notices that it is heavy and solid, then have the rest of the movie take place as it did, but with the base instead of the rock.

Not only would that give the same symbolism and meaning as before, with the additional revelation that the rock was a fake, but it would also have a message about classes, about how the fortunate people are hollow phonies who stand on the solid, hard-working base of people who do the hard and dirty work. Upon realizing this, Ki Woo decides to stop putting his life in the fake good-luck-charm hands of the rich people and take care of his problems himself, with his own, working-class hands.

I think this small change could have amplified the movie and its message quite a bit. Shame. :-\ But oh well, I’m used to getting frustrated by missed opportunities everywhere. 🤷

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