The year 2019 was a very exciting and transformative time for Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. The film made history by being the first movie from South Korea to win the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or. From there, the buzz and achievements for Parasite only increased. It became the first foreign film to win the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Parasite also became the first South Korean film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature Film and Best Picture. It is on track to make even bigger history by being the first South Korean film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. The only thing that people are talking about more than Parasite’s award season chances is probably its ending.
Parasite tells the story of two inverse families: the Parks and the Kims. The Kim family work low paying jobs while barely living above ground. The Park family has everything readily available and they live in a beautiful, bright, modern contemporary home. Eventually, the two families enter each other’s orbit. That’s where the fun and danger begin. Bong Joon-ho has crafted a complex tale about the pursuit of upward mobility and all the shackles the class system brings.
The story follows the Kim family as they manage to con their way into jobs working within the Park's household. Parasite’s ending offers a thrill ride that turns dreams into nightmares and hope into despair. The ending haunts you because of its brutally honest take on the current state of affairs.
As this article discusses the Parasite ending, expect major spoilers.
How Parasite Ended
As mentioned, the story follows the Kims as, one-by-one, the do whatever's necessary to earn a position in the wealthy Park family's household. The Parks have no idea that these four new employees are related.
Things are going ok for the Kims in their new situation when the Park family goes on a camping trip. This allows the Kims the freedom to enjoy the home. The Parks' former housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), arrives at the mansion claiming that she forgot something in the basement. Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) tries not to let Moon-gwang inside but she pushes her way through. It’s revealed that Moon-gwang’s husband has been living in a secret bunker within the Park house. She fed and visited him while employed at the Park estate, but he's been on his own since she was let go.
Moon-gwang begs Chung-sook to keep her secret --seeing them as equals-- but Chung-sook refuses. Moon-gwang and her husband, Geun-sae (Park Myung-hoon) get the upper hand when they discover the Kim family’s scheme. Chung-sook then receives a call from Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) that alerts both families about the Parks’ plan to return home early.
Things hastily shift to an all-out battle for their place between the Kims and the former housekeeper. The Kims win, giving Moon-gwang a severe head wound, and tying Geun-sae and her up before trapping them in the bunker. The next day, the Park family decides to throw an impromptu party. The Kims are expected to attend. Meanwhile, Moon-gwang dies from the blow to the head and Geun-sae goes mad from watching his wife die. Feeling guilty, the Kim family decides to check on Moon-gwang and her husband. Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) opens the bunker and Geun-sae ambushes him. He goes on a rampage, hitting Ki-woo several times in the head with the scholar rock.
Then he arrives at the backyard party and stabs Ki-jeong (Park So-dam). Seeing the incident causes the Parks' son Da-song (Jung Hyun-jun) to have a seizure. Chung-sook manages to kill Geun-sae. Chung-sook and Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) rush to help their daughter, who's bleeding from the stab wound. Meanwhile, Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) demands that Ki-taek give him the keys to the car so they can go to the hospital. Don-ik makes a face of disgust at Geun-sae’s smell and it triggerss Ki-taek. He fatally stabs Dong-ik and then runs out of the party.
Weeks later, Ki-woo wakes from a coma and recounts how Ki-jeong died, and he and his mother were charged with fraud. The police couldn’t find Ki-taek, but Ki-woo has a theory about his father’s whereabouts. One night, he goes to the old Park residence, a rich German family now occupies it. Ki-woo receives a Morse Code message through a blinking light from Ki-taek telling him that he now lives in the bunker.
Ki-woo writes a letter explaining about his plan to work hard, make a bunch of money, and buy the house, allowing his father to finally roam free again. The final scene of Parasite fades away from Ki-woo’s fantasy to reveal him still in the Kim family’s original barely-above-ground apartment.
Who Or What Is The Parasite?
I believe that all three families are the parasites. Like parasites, the Kim family worms their way into the host body (in this case, the Parks’ home) and destroys everything from inside to take over. The Kims engage in ruthless behavior to take positions as the Parks servants. They get the driver fired by framing him as someone who uses the Park vehicle for sexual exploits. Additionally, they use Moon-gwang’s peach allergy to make it seem like she has tuberculosis.
Moon-gwang and Geun-sae are parasites because they are secretly living within the Park home and using their resources to survive. The Park family is a parasite because they cannot function without the assistance of servants. They’re leeching off the people that work for them. Parasite’s cultural structure makes it easy for each family to use the other. This survival of the fittest mentality eventually leads to each family’s downfall.
Another possible parasite is hope. Hope creeps into the mind and takes control. Hope ultimately leads to Ki-woo and the Kim family ending up in a worst situation than their original one.
“Wow! That’s So Metaphorical.”
Parasite is about the current class system and the immobility of underprivileged people. The American dream is just a fantasy that will never match up to the reality of everyday life for the poor. The film’s setting is South Korea but the ideas and problems presented are universal. Parasite’s audience can choose to read the ending in a hopeful or hopeless way. Ki-woo now has a dream and a plan to save his father. Audience can choose to believe that if he works very hard, he’ll accomplish this dream. However, the sobering reality is that this is not going to happen. Ki-woo has a brain injury and criminal record. It would be extremely challenging for him to build something or work his way up in society, especially to the degree of wealth that could afford that home. The song at the end of Parasite, even points to this idea that it will take 564 years for Ki-woo to make enough to afford the Park’s old home.
Bong Joon-ho even spoke about it in numerous interviews. He wanted to give the audience a real ending, and not trick them by leaving it on the fantasy ending. In an interview with NPR, Bong Joon-ho said this about the ending:
So I don’t want to think as a person or creator I’ve become pessimistic about the world… But with Parasite, I really wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to spread random hope to the audience. I really wanted to reflect the truth of current times.
Parasite has so many layers, themes, metaphors, and messages. One of the main themes that plays out in the end is the idea of imprisonment. The Kim family is imprisoned by their own financial instability. Then Ki-taek is literally imprisoned in the house. There is no world for the Kim family where they aren’t imprisoned by something. The fantasy offers an escape for the prison, both for Ki-woo and Ki-taek. On the other hand, it also is the thing that physically holds Ki-taek captive. He’ll spend the rest of his life living in that home. He can’t escape it now.
Bong Joon-ho clearly put so much thought, time, and effort into Parasite. He plans to take his brilliant, but hopeless look at society to the small screen soon. Make sure to watch Parasite and other Oscar nominated films before the Academy Awards on Feb 9. Parasite is currently available to stream on multiple platforms.