Space and Metaphors in Parasite

Each movie is a humongous contribution of time and energy by a group of humans. Before we rush to critique and feel good doing that, I suggest we first appreciate what works well in a movie and what we can learn from it.

The movie Parasite recently won Oscar for Best Direction, Best Picture, Best Foreign Film and Best Original Screenplay.

This essay is on what I found excellent in this movie—its story structure, development and thematic integrity.


Space in Parasite

An interesting feature of this movie is how the director has thoughtfully used space to signify differently.

There are three levels of space. The desired level is that of the affluent, with their open to yard living room with large glass window and a yard that looks up to sky. The semi-basement is a level that is partly underground and partly above road—that transition state where the self yearns to be upwardly-mobile. This is where Mr Kim’s family lives and figures way to do well in the world. From here the many attempts to move class—forging documents, acting certain characters, learning things quickly, to move into desired level. The third level is the underground—made of thick walls, with entry knowledge only with the occupants. The third level has no desire to emerge to desired level except for food for survival. They remain hidden to the world.

On the rainy night, when the upper class folks disappear for sometime, the semi-basement and underground folks emerge to each other. And each group is perceived as threat to each other—although an attempt is made to build collaboration when the former housekeeper begs the Mrs Kim to help her husband –“We are needy folks”, she says. Mrs Kim doesn’t agree she is needy.

However, this struggle is put to an end when the affluent folks return and other level folks have to return to their spaces again. The three members of Mr Kim’s family begin their long descent to their homes. Notice how camera follows the many many stairs going down, shows the flow of water, and the many excruciating moments as they trudge back to their semi-basement.

And notice how at the end of the stairs, Jessica worries about the people underground and the mishap that happened. And also recollect how Mr Kim while sitting in the affluent family’s living room worried about the previous driver who was fired. A message that in spite of internal struggle—members of same class care for each other.

There is another interesting spatial feature—Mr Park’s repeated-use of ”crossing the line” phrase. He is worried about his staff crossing the line. The line is a spatial symbol to distinguish between them and us.

Levels are intact, line maintained and regulated by the affluent.

What happens when the semi-basement and underground attempt to emerge? They die, move underground or return to semi-basement.

Cinematically there is no opportunity to move classes spatially.

Mr Kim goes underground, the previous occupants and Jessica die, Kevin and his mom returns semi-basement.

The desired level of space simply moves laterally to another affluent class.

Also notice the yard. The yard is where Kevin reads his book, looking at sky—the symbol of many opportunities. The child sets up his tent in the yard.

When Kevin dreams a response to his dad at the end of the film about moving classes—we see him and his mom in the living room, his mother in the open yard. They don’t go underground to rescue his dad. Dad has to emerge himself from the shadows of underground and be met and absorbed by those living up.

Spatial arrangement is maintained through the movie.

Even when Kevin’s head is bashed in—he falls at the threshold of the stairs that lead to underground and the corridor that opens to living room of the affluent. He falls at the threshold of possibilities.

QUESTION: How do you use Space in your story/project? What can you do differently?

Smell in Parasite

The story is organised around a single sensory stimuli – the smell. The smell abides and becomes a metaphor for persisting class divide, that is present even in dying and death. Mr Park calls it’s the smell of old radish, a rag boiling in water.

The child is able to sense that smell in all members of Mr Kim’s family. The family wonder if they should use different soaps to smell differently. Finally Jessica says—the smell is of the semi-basement living.

The smell is of class—that is NOT affluent.

Interesting it is also smell that cannot be prevented from crossing line. Smell of Mr Kim wafts over his driver area to where Mr Park sits. Smell of Mr Kim’s family wafts from under the table to where Mr and Mrs Park lie on the couch. Smell of the dead husband of the former housekeeper wafts across death to living to Mr Park as he attempts to extract key from under his body.

Smell invades, smell says I exist, smell disrupts.

Smell is a sensory stimulating metaphor.

This is something we can learn — how to find an appropriate metaphor, connect it to a single sensory stimulus, develop it through detailed instances, and chunk it up to a key message.

Question: What metaphors do you use in your story/project? How you improve the way you develop this metaphor?


Other Aspects of the Movie

Language in Parasite

There are two languages (perhaps more since I can only follow translated subtitles, there could be class differences in language). One language is what is spoken by the characters. And then there is the language of Morse Code which is understood by those in Cub Scouts and those living underground. Kevin and the kid are the only ones who understand it outside underground.

The folks who live underground use morse code to communicate with those not-in-underground who in turn require a special tuning of the senses and effort to decipher.

The language of the world above is that of the affluent—it has erased other languages.


There is one area where the class divide collapses—sex. Notice when Kevin and Mr Park’s daughter make out and Kevin wonders if he fits in with her group, she nods.

And also notice how when Mr and Mrs Park pleasure each other, the same things that they prefer to keep outside line, crosses over—the cheap panties, drugs, car sex—becomes a turn-on.

The other class symbols are sexualised and used as a channel for pleasure.


A very interesting character in the movie is the child—restless, with great imagination, and internal frame of reference.

The affluent family’s lives revolve around this child. The child is the one who senses the similarity of smells in Kim’s family members. The child in his tent in the yard is spatially placed outside as the observer. He is the only one who can read the morse code emerging from the underground.

And also the only one impacted by the emergence of underground—epileptic seizure after seeing ‘ghost’.

He is the slippage in class construction—that space when classes become aware of each other. And yet the slippage is also the weakest in the construction—it collapses quickly.

Question: How do you bring conflict in your story/project? How is the status quo disrupted?

And after reading my analysis, what comes to your awareness now?

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