ARTHOUSE DOUBLE FEATURE: PARASITE AND THE LIGHTHOUSE (BOTH 2019)
Reviews by LL Soares
I recently had the chance to see two art films that have been making the rounds of international film festivals, to much acclaim. PARASITE is the new one by Bong Joon Ho, who also gave us THE HOST (2006), SNOWPIERCER (2013) and OKJA (2017); while THE LIGHTHOUSE is the new one by Robert Eggers, whose first feature film was THE WITCH (2015).
PARASITE won the top prize (the coveted Palme d’Or) at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, so there were big expectations for this one before it came to U.S. theaters.
The story revolves around two families, the Kims and the Parks. The Kims are poor and live in the slums of South Korea, in a basement apartment that is too small for them. They consist of son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park), the rather lazy father Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) and mother Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang). All of the family members are looking for easy ways to make money, and aren’t above scamming people to do so.
One day Ki-woo’s friend Min (Seo-joon Park) comes over to tell him that he’s going abroad and needs someone to take over his job of tutoring the daughter of a wealthy family. Ki-woo is nervous about this, since he doesn’t have a college degree, but he’s smart, and Min says he will recommend him, which should make him a shoe-in.
After Ki-jung makes him some fake but real-looking credentials using Photoshop, Ki-woo goes to the home of the Parks, made up of successful businessman father Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee), pretty but ditzy mother Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo), high school-age daughter Da-hye (Ji-so Jung) and young son Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung). He’s impressed with their wealth and is enough of a smooth operator to win over mother Yeon-kyo, who demands to sit in on the first tutor session. Everyone is suitably pleased with the results, and Ki-woo is in! Before he leaves, he finds out that the Parks’ young son, Da-song, is in need of a therapeutic art tutor (he is allegedly very smart but emotionally troubled), and Ki-woo says he knows of the perfect teacher – an art student who spent some time in America. His recommendation is, of course, his sister, Ki-jung, who pretends to be a friend of a friend (and not his sister). She arrives at the home the following day and is immediately hired as the art tutor for Da-song.
Once the siblings are set up, they try to find a way to get their parents in on the situation. Ki-jung uses some misplaced panties to get the Parks’ chauffer fired, which leads to the hiring of “highly recommended” Ki-taek. The hardest placement is for the Kim matriarch, Chung-sook, since the Parks already have a housekeeper, who seems to rule the place with an iron hand. But after a long scheme to make Mrs. Park think that her housekeeper is ill with a contagious disease, they get rid of her, too, and Mama Kim is more than eager to take her place.
At this point, the Kims are all esconsed in the Park home, trusted and well-paid, and everything seems to be going nicely. The Parks even go away for a camping trip, and the Kims have a drunken party of their own in the luxurious house that they are convinced should be theirs instead.
It is at this party, where the Kims celebrate the success of their plan to take over all of the servant roles for the Parks, that something unexpected happens. A twist I won’t reveal here, but which changes things in a drastic way. On top of that, the Parks come home early from their trip, and the Kims have to clean up the house in a hurry.
From this point on, PARASITE is full of plot twists and turns that take this somewhat upbeat story of haves and have nots and bring it to a much darker place. There will be cover-ups and even violent murder before the tale is done. This is the kind of movie where the less said about the surprises the better. Let’s just say that PARASITE ends on a satisfying note (even if one final plot point seems a bit far-fetched), and you know that you’re in the hands of a master filmmaker throughout. Another solid film from director Bong Joon Ho; one of his best. The cast is terrific, and the story does a good job of fleshing out the characters. The plot surprises just make it all the more involving. I give it four knives.
A moody, brooding follow-up to THE WITCH, Robert Eggers’ second feature, THE LIGHTHOUSE, revolves around just two characters, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). These two gents arrive on an island, as the movie opens, taking the places of the last two keepers of the titular lighthouse. Isolated from civilization, with only sea gulls to keep them company, the movie is a study in loneliness, boredom, and ultimately, madness. The fact that it is filmed in black and white just emphasizes the otherworldly feel of some scenes.
Wake is an old man who loves to talk and who can become abusive when the mood strikes him. Immediately, he makes it clear that only he is allowed in the room at the top of the lighthouse (only he can gaze upon the light!), while Winslow, the younger man, attends to menial chores down below.
During their stay and beyond (a violent storm delays their rescue), they go from normal behavior to eccentric and bizarre. This is a tale of tedious work, ugly meals, burps and farts, and the loud, drunken singing of sea shanties. There are also some secrets, such as when Winslow finds a carved scrimshaw mermaid hidden in his mattress, and what strange behavior is Wake up to in that light chamber, where Winslow sometimes catches glimpses of him, working in the nude and talking him someone (or himself)? When troublesome gulls get in Winslow’s way while bringing coal up to the house in a wheelbarrow, Wake warns him never to kill a sea bird. It brings bad luck. So, of course we know what’s coming.
A scene where Winslow finds a real live mermaid (Valerlia Karaman) on the rocks begins to blur the lines between dreams and reality, and things just get fuzzier from there.
I liked the performances, and could appreciate the dialogue (which was meticulously crafted to sound like the way people spoke at the time). These are two fine actors given a chance to shine, but it didn’t all work for me. No doubt to show us the tedium of their time there, the movie moves at a slow pace, which at times made me as bored as the characters. I know that’s probably the point, but it didn’t help to endear me to the film.
By the time we reach the ending, which is both surreal and and a touch absurd, I had mixed feelings about THE LIGHTHOUSE. I could appreciate the performances and the dark imagery, but I couldn’t escape the fact that I found most of the film’s running time to be a bit too boring for my taste.
Which doesn’t mean that I don’t recommend THE LIGHTHOUSE, which has also been doing well at film festivals. I didn’t hate it surely, but I didn’t fully enjoy it, either, and by the time the end credits scrolled, I felt a bit disappointed with the whole endeavor. Eggers’ first film, THE WITCH, shared some of the same pros and cons. It was also slow paced, with a visually stunning ending. But I never felt the heavy sense of boredom in THE WITCH that I felt sometimes while watching THE LIGHTHOUSE. And for that reason, I cannot recommend it completely.
That said, I give it three knives. There’s a lot of talent at work here, and it’s evident. Some of the imagery will stick with you. It’s just not a film I particularly loved.
© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives PARASITE ~~ 4 knives
and THE LIGHTHOUSE ~ 3 knives