Today I want to talk about “Parasite”, which is a milestone in the history of Korean cinema and even in the history of world cinema. It became the first non-English language film to win Best Picture in Oscar history, and the first film to win both Best Picture and Best International Film.
The film is directed by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, who focuses his camera on Korean society, where the gap between the rich and the poor and the class divide are serious, and uses an extremely sophisticated dramatic concept and audio-visual grammar to present the universal proposition of “the unshakeability of class conflict” in a popularly acceptable three-act drama structure.
Among all the metaphors in “Parasite”, smell is the most unique setting in the film and one of the most important images. The director presents it four times in the film through audio-visual means.
Parasites” is a visualization of class difference through smell. While appearance can be disguised, the “scent of poverty” is embedded in the marrow of the bones and in the genes, and is a marker of identity that cannot be gotten rid of. The bottom-class people are marked by their smell, and this invisible and untouchable thing becomes their original sin. At the same time, the smell also symbolizes the chain of class, which is locked firmly since birth and cannot be broken free for a lifetime, which is the reason why the “parasites” can never rise from the ground, as if the water can never flow upward. The change of smell, like a line, pulling the progress of the plot, while the smell has become an insurmountable gap between the poor class and the rich class, always remind each other’s identity is very different.
In the 1860s, the peak of British realist fiction, a very interesting phenomenon emerged: a lot of descriptions of characters’ own smell or the smell of things around them, and the comparison of smell with people’s class status, trying to use smell to interpret the characters’ class status. For example, George Eliot’s “Felix Holt” (1866) and “The Mill on the Floss” (1860), Charles Dickens’s “The Long Walk” (1861) and “Our Mutual Friend” (1865).
When the characters and readers of the novel go to experience the smell, they encounter not the smell of the characters themselves, but the smell emanating from the environment in which the characters work and live.
Smell is perceived by the people around and suggests the class attributes of the characters, because smell is also a sign of people’s unequal status, like class, and they constitute a reality that is difficult to express in words.
The reason why odors can be used to classify class attributes is that, according to psychologists, once a person’s sense of smell becomes accustomed to certain stimuli, it becomes dull. The fact that the poor people in the movie think they “don’t have” odors just shows that the people who perceive odors have become accustomed to these stimuli and their sense of taste becomes dull. Because odor is often seen as a habit, it can be used to explain the difference between those odors that have been smelled and those that have not been smelled in the realm of class. According to Peggy Phelan, cultures based on visibility and power inequality are “invisible”. It is precisely those things that lack “visibility” that go unnoticed and are the most dominant and powerful social norms. Because people do not consciously smell odors they are already familiar with (habit obliterates their response to odors), the noticeable (or distinctive) odors simply register the stimuli that originate in the material world. Thus, odors have the function of identifying or classifying different classes.