And the Oscar goes to…:Why Parasite's Best Picture win matters for us
With Parasite’s big night at the Oscars, it seems like the Academy overcame “the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles”; but why is everyone ga-ga over the film and why should we care about it? Let us help you understand.
When as a nation, as people we are done being salty over Lagaan not winning the Best International Feature Film in 2002, maybe we can begin understanding what the ‘Parasweep’ of the Oscar 2020 means.
Auteur Bong Joon Ho’s Dark comedy-thriller made history at the 92nd Academy Awards, becoming the first foreign-language film to win the best picture. This victory marks curtains for the unbelievable awards season run it has had since its Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival.
Critics and masses alike are raving about this Korean tale of class tension in an unequal society. In fact, the Parasite buzz is so much that even contrarian articles putting down why Parasite doesn’t deserve the praise it gets have entered the market.
And as they say, the true mark of success is when there are articles written to say why it doesn’t deserve it.
The impact of Parasite winning the best picture is nothing short of enormous, for the first time a non-English film has broken out of the ghetto of “foreign-language” cinema- also known as the patronising hand of the powerful Academy. This could have a lasting impact on the filmmakers who tell their stories in their language.
Past best picture winners like The Last Emperor (1988) and Slumdog Millionaire (2009) have had large chunks of their dialogues in non-English languages, but a Korean film based on the Korean society with a universal topic as its centrepiece finally did the trick this time.
Every year around this time, us, Indians go through a bittersweet dilemma. There would be think-pieces by bearded critics asking why India can’t produce Oscar-winning films, while there would be another camp calling the Academy Awards immaterial as it refuses to acknowledge the Indian way of telling stories. But Parasite’s sweep at the Oscars has sent a message not only to India, but all the other countries who feel that Academy only focuses on films coming out of the American or British studio cabals. Granted, that Bong Joon Ho is an A-list director who is considered one of the very best by the very best themselves, but its dominance at the awards paints a hopeful picture for a lot.
Speaking to Vulture, Ho had said “The Oscars are not an international film festival, they’re very local”, clearly underlining what Oscars had become. But this win could mean that the Oscars can transcend that and become a ceremony for all cinema, and not just that in the English language.
Now coming to the film itself, it’s like a Shakespearean tale smeared over the backdrop of class inequality. Set in Seoul, the film is structured over a tight premise of how a down-and-out family cons their way into the employ of a wealthy family living atop a hill mansion. Building on the familiar premise of an out-of-luck family devising methods to survive in their subterranean house, the film becomes a rousing thriller as the Kim family slowly usurps the jobs of the existing workers to plant themselves in.
With genre thrills and universally identifiable Capiltalism-is-bad theme, the film justifies its title when the viewer understands how economic disparity forges intense relationships between the rich and the poor under capitalism.
Probably it’s my Indian middle-class upbringing that made me root for the Kim family over the wealthy Parks, but each time the latter would express their anxiety over sharing close proximity with the working class, I would relate to some extent too. There lies the paradox in which the Bong Joon Ho captures his audience. No matter how much the rich try to isolate themselves from the rest of society, it only brings them nearer to those whose life circumstances they wish to escape.
Of course, the film is filled with references which forebear ominous twists in the tale, like the order from lady Park to arrange the tables according to a war formation at the expense of Kim family’s day off. But the breaking point in the film comes with a storm. The storm can be seen as Ho’s way to depict how climate change affects the rich and the poor differently. While it’s a catastrophe for the Kim family as their entire house is submerged underwater and they have to spend the night at a community hall, the Parks spend a beautiful night enjoying the rain from huge glass windows of their living room.
With the Kim family barely scraping out of the danger of being caught, the water travels with them from the hilltop mansion to their cluttered house in the dingy Seoul ghetto. With this Ho manages to expose a new 21st-century serfdom, which rings true for most of the world where inequality reigns supreme.
As an Indian who has spent all his life in urban centres, I was torn in this whirlwind of the upstairs and downstairs dark satire. Why Parasite is a masterpiece is simply because it drives the point of subtle class commentary in the most exhilarating manner with a tragicomic fallout.
And maybe, just maybe, Academy’s acceptance of this wild tale will do away with its obsession with mainstream-prestige dullness and dare our filmmakers to materialise original thoughts into celluloid in their own languages.
Breaking of the glass ceiling? It’s time.