The 2019 film Parasite supports H.L Mencken’s statement “The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe” through the tribulations of the Kim family. Despite economic, political, and societal issues, the average person submits to order imposed by those who look down upon them. Poor citizens have historically been hurt by the systems in place against them; they are unable to be successful or live lavishly. Still, the average man does not reject those who use him as a pawn. Those with power provide safety, roofs, and jobs. Bong Joon-Ho’s film Parasite depicts the struggle in contemporary society for the common man. For the purpose of this essay, the common man can be defined as any person who is not affluent. In the film, the low-income Kim family infiltrates the lives of the established Park family in order to maintain stability. Parasite reaches universal audiences as it deals with a basic problem– the need to be safe and the sacrifices a person will make for such a desire.
The first scene of Parasite establishes the tough situation of a poor family, in this case, the Kim family. Chung-sook, the mother, has awards on the walls, but no further accolades. Ki-jeong and Ki-woo, the children, both have dropped out of school. Ki-taek, the father, finds himself criticized by his family given that he has nothing to provide and his business ventures have failed. Each member of the family has had to give up opportunity. The family resides in a semi-basement filled with tarnished food and stink bugs. In a free world, they are prisoners to the unforgiving system. They cannot rise through the ranks or leave the semi-basement; they cannot even live above the ground. Like many common families globally, the Kim family finds itself imprisoned by circumstances. Due to this, they will commit fraud to be able to seek economic safety.
In a series of acts, Ki-woo forges his credentials and takes a job as the English tutor for Da-hye, the daughter of affluent Mrs. and Mr. Park. When Ki-woo approaches the Park household, the security of the home is emphasized. Surrounded by monochrome walls, a gate, and security cameras, the house is shut off from the surrounding world. The house itself is the height of luxury, with vast spaces both indoors and outdoors. The reality of such a house hardly seems possible to Ki-woo; he finds solace in the grandness of the home. The Parks pay Ki-woo a very high salary and the economic security catches the attention of the entire Kim family. In an elaborate scheme, Ki-jeung becomes the art therapist for their son Da-song, Ki-taek becomes the driver for Mr. Park, and Chung-sook becomes the housekeeper. The family obtains these jobs by staging performances for the Parks that deem the Kims to be selfless. In reality, the Kims planted evidence in order to fire the former chauffeur and sent the former housekeeper into a respiratory attack.
The family’s way of obtaining their jobs is undeniably diabolical, yet one cannot help but sympathize. The Kim’s are looking for security. After living in the semi-basement with no discernable income, the prospect of safety in wealth is too enticing. Instead of living as free citizens, the Kim family become dotiful actors using the Park’s to secure their own lives. They have given up freedom, relinquished their identities, for security.
In order to continue the mirage, each member of the Kim family undergoes a change in appearance to work in the Park household. With new haircuts, clothes, and makeup, they are able to pretend they are not commoners. However, as proven by the constant comments from the Park’s, the smell still lingers– the smell of the streets and homes that can only be hidden by expensive perfumes or soaps. Despite their hard work, despite giving up their identities and finding comfort in this home, they will never be accepted. They will never be free from the confinement of poverty. This is further proven as they harbor in the Park’s home during a storm. While the Park’s are on vacation, each member of the Kim family gorges on food and alcohol. They lounge within the walls of the great estate, uncaring to the situation outside. However, the Park’s return home unexpectedly and all but Chung-sook scurry from the home.
When returning to the semi-basement, it is revealed that the rain caused a flood in the poor portions of town. Ki-taek pulls himself through the water to save several artifacts in the house; nearly everything the Kims had is gone. With nowhere to sleep, the family ends up in a high school with the rest of the commoners. After viewing the family in the Park estate, it is a cold juxtaposition to see them on the hardwood floor. Without ever being apart of the wealthy, they have fallen from grace. The Parks call upon them the following morning to party; nothing that happens beyond the walls affects the Parks. One day after a public tragedy, the elite are celebrating a child’s birthday. They do not care about the flood, about the destruction of the world they live in. As long as they have safety, they are fine. Despite losing everything, the Kim family attends the Park’s party; they have no other choice. Their jobs are their lives, and to preserve security they must obey. Even though the Kim’s have been scamming the Park’s for the entirety of the film, they still are controlled by the gullible elite. The Kim’s cannot refuse money or work. They must dress up, remove their stench, remove all signs that they are free people to become playthings for the rich. As their free world falls apart, they choose false security.
Parasite does not tell the story of one specific place or one specific family. It is a story about the entirety of the world, about all families who are put down by systems. Security is easier to obtain than freedom. Parasite, a satirical film about modern society, can support Mencken’s words. In 2019, Parasite’s mere existence proves that Mencken’s idea still exists. People are drawn by the stories of the common man, of their plight in society. Systems like capitalism will always be in place to ensure the position of the successful. Rather than fight it, be in it. Manipulate it to be able to survive. With high taxes, climate change, and government policy, there is no way to be free. Instead, the common man should find safety in menial jobs and in false democracy. Parasite addresses the issues that the majority of humanity faces; commoners are not given the choice to be free.