I saw two new films this weekend: Parasite and Greener Grass.
Parasite is a Korean- language Palme d’Or winner from directer Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer, Okja). Greener Grass is an indie film written by and starring Upright Citizens Brigade members Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe.
And yet… these movies are kind of the same?
Bong said he made Parasite to examine class relativity in South Korea. In the film, a poor but tight- knit family called the Kims con an ignorant but wealthy family called the Parks for income. The Kims seem like parasites, until they discover an even poorer family living in the Park’s secret bomb shelter- and then the Kims become victims as well.
Greener Grass, based on a 2016 short film of the same name (you can watch it here), begins when spineless Julie (Jocelyn DeBoer) gives her new baby to domineering Lisa (Dawn Luebbe). Julie loses more and more as the social pressures of suburbia bear down; meanwhile, a stalker seeks to murder Julie and steal her life!
It’s a surrealist comedy.
Both films discuss class pressures. Both films contain members of lower classes preying on members of the perceived upper classes.
Greener Grass takes its name from the expression “the grass is always greener on the other side”. The characters constantly covet their friends’ lives. Only husbands and wives have genuine relationships. The females compare children like prized hams and get off on being mean to each other. They peer pressure Julie into divorcing her husband. By film’s end, Lisa has Julie’s kids, Julie’s husband, Julie’s house, and Julie’s outfit.
“It’s so nice of you to come to the soccer games even though you don’t have kids anymore!” Lisa says when Julie rolls up with a child she stole from a woman in another town.
Julie surveys the soccer field. Dried leaves poke out of her hair and blood smears her mouth from when she removed her own braces (all the adults in the film wear braces).
“Hey Lisa… Do the kids play soccer on graves?”
“I have to get out of here!” Julie screams.
“OUT OF BOUNDS!” yells the ref. Julie’s bony butt falls to the bleachers with a thunk. She’s trapped. She cannot escape. By the end of the film, Julie learns to stand up for herself. She figures out that society is pretty disgusting, but she has to live there anyway.
At the end of Parasite, Mr. Kim (poor dad) finds himself literally trapped in the basement where the psycho couple used to live. A member of each of the three families lies dead. Basement Man murdered Mr. Kim’s daughter. Mr. Kim murdered Mr. Park. Mrs. Kim murdered Basement Man. And the Parks move out of their palace.
Kim Ki-Woo, the middle family’s son, fantasizes about becoming wealthy enough to buy the house and free his father. He still thinks wealth will solve his problems.
Parasite has so many facets that one could easily spend a year writing thesis papers about it, but suffice to say that Parasite and Greener Grass share some themes. The grass is always greener under someone else’s dead body. Status is relative. And poor people are murdering psychos.
What do Parasite and Greener Grass say about our time? In America, wealth inequality and the medical- industrial complex created hordes of addicted homeless. Bong says similar income inequality exists in South Korea’s post- capitalist society. Consumer culture literally poisons the air we breathe. I wouldn’t call either film eco- conscious, but humans sure act like parasites on the planet. We just can’t seem to settle for some nice green grass.
I’m still chewing on Parasite and Greener Grass. I think both movies suggest something insidious about society. Critics are calling Parasite the greatest movie of the year, but I liked Greener Grass better. Check out these flicks when you feel like everyone is awful. Neither will make you feel better, but at least Greener Grass will make you laugh.