Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D.



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Cinema Therapy — Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D.


Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most needy parasite of all―the Parks or the Kims?

PARASITE is an appropriate title, a raw and naked story of class envy, Korean style, which at times has a satirical feel, like FARGO, but underneath it is deeply upsetting because the characters not only feed off each other but are unfeeling, without any core of morality, conscience, or personal responsibility for their personal situations or the world around them.

The story is based on the plight of a Korean family, the Kims, who live in an urban half-basement below ground, sooty and dark, where they fold pizza boxes for a living. They are desperate to get out of poverty, stealing Wi-Fi from the coffee shop above to link up with the world around them. They use every deceitful maneuver to change their circumstances. The Kim’s son, Kim-Woo, fraudulently promotes himself (using the name “Kevin”) as a qualified tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park Da-hae family who live in the architectural estate on the hill. Once “Kevin” gets his foot in the door, he infiltrates his family members into the Park Da-hae home as individual domestics, without regard for the current Park family workers who, consequently, get tossed out of their jobs.

Through PARASITE we experience the world from two opposing perspectives: the haves and the have nots, including a conspiracy of the ever-widening gap between the ultrarich and the impoverished. Director/writer Bong Joon-ho’s PARASITE mirrors his worldview, what we see in the world of those scrambling to survive and grab for themselves yet do nothing to contribute. They only take. The distinct lifestyles of two families, two homes, one that lives upstairs, and the other downstairs, and what lies dangerously dormant and ominously lurking underneath, act as metaphors of these extreme conditions. “I’m not making a documentary or propaganda here,” states Bong Joon-ho. “It’s not about telling you how to change the world or how you should act because something is bad, but rather showing you the terrible, explosive weight of reality. That’s what I believe is the beauty of cinema.”

The Kim family schemes ways to USE their employer’s affluence and gullibility to pretend to live a better life, to live a less smelly life. However, the smell of living life in the purgatory of the sewers doesn’t wash out with a façade of new clothes. You can smell the truth, and the Park child intuits the Kim family’s common odor. Both master and servant use the other for their own gain. PARASITE identifies the Kim family’s build-up of murderous rage over the disparity of a Korean culture of the very wealthy and an opposing desperate subculture. It also identifies the deadly rage of people caught in the dynamic of dominance and submission, where nothing changes, a world where many in the populace live without hope. The physical and emotional desperation, like the rage of those living in an invisible, unseen world below ground, so to speak, remains brewing and hidden. The haves (The Parks) are oblivious to the needs of their children as well as those who serve them. In an act of murderous rage father Kim stabs his employer then runs away and hides in the same underground room of the prior servants. We come full circle, and, in the end, no one wins!

Psychological Implications
Crisis can be an event or a lifestyle. For the Kim family, PARASITE illustrates a lifestyle. Bong Joon-ho movies tend to end where they begin! Hopelessness and helplessness! And this one certainly meets that criteria with the father, sequestered first in his own squalid domain and then in the subterranean vault of the Park Da-hae estate. PARASITE gives the viewer so much food for thought. It implores us to question what is home, a place or a mindset? What is it that binds society together? How is it that the world still continues to spin, impassive and unmoved by the horrors of those desperately scrabbling to survive?

How might this story of class envy and lack of morality apply to the clients we treat? Might family systems work make an impact with this enmeshed family? Although patients like the Kims may not enter therapy, the dynamics of dominance and submission are embedded in the population who do enter therapy, most often in a crisis state. For those who struggle and pull themselves up by their bootstraps to move from submission to empowerment, the chaos, lies, manipulation, and deceit may not apply. But PARASITE is a psychological mirror that reflects the frustration of working with clients at either the submissive or the controlling end of the dynamic who “feed” off the other. They mask their inadequacy with distortions, lies, blame and manipulation. They instill fear and deny or reject thoughts of responsibility rather than work to improve their own life situation. Anger and resentment at being stuck in their down and out position are the Kims’ primary tools to justify immoral activities. The family expresses their “hate” for those at the other end of the spectrum and use it to bring them down rather than look in the mirror and take action that leads to change (external/internal). What a challenge for a therapist working with this population!

Yet, we, like the Kim family, we hang on, bear witness to the possibility of change. Is there a remote possibility of change? When all hope of rescuing his father sequestered in the half basement (where the movie all started) is lost, Kevin replies to his father’s plea for help that he has a plan. Here, we again bear witness to the Kims’ crisis as a life cycle without an escape hatch. We experience a thread of hope, a fantasy, yet the reality is we know it will not happen!

Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D. (PSY22909) is a clinical psychologist who practices in Encino. She leads Women's Empowerment Groups that help women learn the tools to move beyond self-destructive relationship patterns. She may be reached at 818.501.4123 or Her office address is 16055 Ventura Blvd. #1129 Encino, CA 91436.

San Fernando Valley Chapter – California Marriage and Family Therapists