Podculture: Daily staffers discuss Parasite, Watchmen

Emma Yarger and Wilson Chapman

WILSON CHAPMAN: Hi. Welcome to Podculture, a Daily Northwestern podcast covering all the biggest events and entertainment. I’m Wilson Chapman –

YARGER: And I’m Emma Yarger.

CHAPMAN: In this episode we’ll be discussing “Parasite.” Directed by Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite” is a brutally dark satire of wealth inequality, and one of the most acclaimed films of the year.

YARGER: Then we’ll be talking about the first episode of “Watchmen.” Created by Damon Lindelof and based on the acclaimed 80s mini series from Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins, “Watchmen” reimagines the world of the comic book in the modern day and tackles some of the most pressing issues of our time.

CHAPMAN: The episode will contain spoilers for both the movie and the TV show, so shut it off if you don’t want to be spoiled. For everyone else, thanks for tuning in.

Alright, so let’s just get started with “Parasite.” So, I saw this movie this past Friday. I saw it with my dad, who was in town. And when it ended, my dad turned to me and was like, ‘that was the weirdest f—–g movie I’ve ever seen.’ His exact reaction.

YARGER: I mean, and that’s 100% right. But also, being said, weird is not a bad thing, in this case. I absolutely loved it.

CHAPMAN: Oh, I loved it too. I couldn’t stop thinking about it the entire week. It really is a movie that has so much to say.

YARGER: It’s definitely one of the movies I think you would get more and more out of the more times you see it as well. My first reaction, honestly, was a lot of discomfort, mostly because it deals with very real topics of class struggle.

CHAPMAN: So, I guess we should talk a little bit about how the film works. It starts out, the main plot of the film follows this family of four. Like husband, wife, son, daughter, and basically how they sort of scam their way into working to this rich family. The first half of it is essentially a very funny, sharp comedy. It sort of follows how they do it.I particularly liked the the daughter of the family. I thought she was hilarious, how she sort of scammed her way into becoming an art therapy instructor.

YARGER: It was amazing.

CHAPMAN: At like the halfway point, it shifts completely into this thriller territory. It becomes a lot weirder, a lot darker. There’s a lot more to process.

YARGER: I originally wanted to classify it as a dark comedy, but it also breaks the bonds of that genre. Just because it’s so sectioned. The beginning with the comedy portion, and the end with this totally different film style that I’ve never really seen before. I was super inspired.

CHAPMAN: That said, I think it handled that transition. I felt like all the actors were very good at handling it seamlessly. I was trying to think like, why the director wanted to do that, why he wanted to sort of lure the audience into thinking of it as a comedy and then revealing this much darker aspect of it. So like the shift happens, basically with the revelation that there’s this abandoned bunker in the mansion of the rich family’s home. And there’s this man who’s been living there for, for how many years. And I thought that was so interesting. So interesting and this looking at it symbolically, I thought it made an interesting point of almost, I guess, how dependent the poor is on the rich. That’s sort of what I took away from it. What did you take away from it?

YARGER: Well, I think that’s a really interesting point that the poor do rely on the rich and that’s definitely shown throughout the movie in a lot of different ways. But also because of the way that the rich family continually needs to have a staff, you can say it both ways and the juxtaposition of the rich really relying on the poor, I think also culminates at the very end.

CHAPMAN: I thought it was also interesting to how even though this is a foreign film, it’s felt so relevant to America, like the ending. We can talk about the ending later, but if you translated this to America and made it with American actors, I would have thought the ending was sort of this very pointed rebuttal against the American dream. The sharpness of the film is helped by how on point the technical elements are, like the editing and cinematography. It’s a very well crafted film.

YARGER: It definitely is, all the motifs are very intentional. The director, he did a phenomenal job of cultivating a movie and making really specific choices about what themes that he wanted to put in the movie. And kind of making that overarching statement about the society that transcends Korean culture, but also goes into American culture as well.

CHAPMAN: I think the moment that really crystallized it for me was the scene where the family is heading back to their home, the rain is pouring and it’s completely flooded, and it’s devastating their neighborhood, and they have to relocate to a shelter for a night. And then it cuts back to the rich family and they’re completely fine and they’re organizing a birthday party for their son. It was very interesting, seeing how things that would devastate people of low income are just completely meaningless to people of high income. I thought that was a very interesting point they’re making. And just for me, it almost struck me weirdly personally. So I’m from the New York area and I was 13 when Hurricane Sandy happened. So many people died, so many people lost their homes. And for me, the biggest way it affected my life was that I lost Wi-Fi for a week. And, even as a d—–s 13 year old, I was still smart enough to know that a lot of people were suffering. But, just watching that scene, watching how the rich people quickly got up back on their feet and just moved on after the rain storm. It reminded me a lot of how my own friends and family were able to recover so quickly from Sandy when other people weren’t, and it really made me think of my own privilege in a way that I haven’t really thought about in a long time, which I think shows why this movie is so good. It really genuinely makes you think.

YARGER: And I think it also speaks to multiple different groups. So if you are maybe somebody who has that privilege, like you are able to reflect on that, but then also if you are somebody who doesn’t, it’s a movie that represents you in a way that not all movies do, which I think is really unique that it can speak to so many different audiences. On top of that, what you were just talking about what it made me think of was about this whole theme towards the end of the movie about making a plan and how the dad doesn’t want his son to make plans anymore, and how sort of precarious the lives of those who are low income are and how quickly their plans can go awry. And that also is seen then by at the end of the movie where the rich people’s plans don’t really work out. And they have to kind of experience that for one of the first times and obviously it goes wrong in a very, very bad way. Um, but I think that’s super. It’s just like they had to kind of swallow that medicine whereas the family of four who had been working for the rich family had experienced many setbacks all the time

CHAPMAN: One thing that I thought was very interesting was, I went into it expecting that the rich family would be complete snobs and the poor family would be very angelic. Not angelic, but very sympathetic. I thought it was very interesting how they played the morality of it. I think a lesser movie would have wanted you to 100% root for the family and would have portrayed the rich family as snobs, whereas for the most part, they definitely were snobby. But they weren’t depicted as outright bad people, except for maybe the dad. The mom was just clueless. The kids seemed like more or less good people.I think the point almost ended up being less that rich people are bad, and just that rich people are ignorant and don’t understand disparities and injustice, which I think is a more interesting point. I thought it was interesting how the poor family never ended up in direct conflict with their employers. The main conflict they ended up with was with another poor family which, I don’t know how you interpreted it, but I thought of it as almost a statement about how, when you’re in this oppressive system, you fight with other people on your same level instead of really thinking about people above you.

YARGER: Well, I mean, I think it all continues to go back to the name. “Parasite” is never mentioned. The word “parasite” is never in the movie. It really reflects the entire theme of how people are trying to make their living. And I do want to go back to the point that I made at the beginning. I think the rich family is somewhat parasitic to poor people in general.The wife can’t do anything by herself, and therefore needs to hire help, and the dad can’t get around unless he has a driver. So they obviously require that sort of service. At the same time, then you see this man living in the basement, feeding off of this family. So, that’s the most obvious imagery of a parasite. But I think it’s really interesting that it goes both ways. There’s obviously this very distinct theme about smells, and its first brought up, I believe, when the youngest son of the rich family says they all smell the same. And that’s the first point where you start to get a little bit nervous. It’s like you realize this maybe isn’t a comedy at that there’s a little bit at stake here. Because they’re worried about the rich family finding out that they are all family members, and that they kind of scamed their way into these jobs. And then it continues on to the fact where the rich dad continues to complain about the poor dad, who’s his driver, and about how he’s a pretty good driver. But sometimes says too much, and he has this really bad smell about him. And it’s because they live in a half basement, and they live in a poor area of town. And it’s not that they’re unhygienic or anything, but the fact that these rich people are so within their own bubble that they can tell the difference between somebody who’s poor just based on their smell. That tension culminates in the ending when he won’t even go to grab his own keys because it smells bad near this man. And he needs these keys to go save his son. So, that part for me almost justified the stabbing.

CHAPMAN: Again, it wasn’t like he was even intentionally being rude, it was just his own internal bias and way of living that made him think like this. Let’s talk a bit about the ending where the poor father ends up trapped in the basement. And the son makes a pledge that he’ll earn enough money that one day he’ll be able to buy the house and free his dad. And we get this scene with them reuniting. But for me, I think it’s meant to be ambiguous. I thought that was just a vision and it didn’t actually happen. What do you think?

YARGER: Oh, 100%. I just got chills when you’re describing that. It was very, very beautiful. The scene of him coming up the stairs from the basement and walking out and going to hug his son. But then after this beautiful moment, it goes back to the son in present time, writing down the Morse code and writing down this letter. So, I don’t believe that it happens. And also a layer on top of that as this whole theme about making plans.The dad continually told his son not to make plans. And now the son at the end has made yet another plan to do this for his father, which is obviously very well-intentioned. But again, we’ve seen through the entire movie that plans don’t really work out the way that you want them to. And so the vision was sort of this way to ease the viewer, but also to still show them that that’s only one of the many possibilities of how this family could end.

CHAPMAN: God, this movie. Just yeah, it’s my favorite movie I’ve seen in such a long time. I can’t stop thinking about it. Just go see this movie, everyone.

CHAPMAN: So, Emma, we didn’t really talk about this, but before you watched the show, how familiar were you with “Watchmen?”

YARGER: I was not familiar with it. Same with “Parasite,” actually, both of these things I went into with no prior knowledge, and I think that kind of made it even better.

CHAPMAN: So I guess, as a newcomer to this, how accessible was it?

YARGER: I think that it stands alone very well. And if it was created just as a show, I would still really like it. Obviously the episode is confusing intentionally. But I still understood what was going on. I didn’t need any prior knowledge of the characters to enjoy the episode.

CHAPMAN: Yeah, and I really liked how they very sort of trusted the audience to not need to be hand-holded. They were very much able to drop all these weird facts and like all these interesting alternate history things like, Vietnam is a state now, like Robert Redford is president like, all the police officers wear masks and sort of trust you to be intrigued.

YARGER: I think that all of those things, pushed it to the point were you knew that it was an alternate universe, but with generally the same rules as the one that we live in. Which I think was really helpful in suspending your disbelief, but only to a certain point. So you could still enjoy it and still, like expect somewhat logical events to take place.

CHAPMAN: So I think it’s also interesting to talk about so this show, it’s not an adaptation of the comic in a direct sense. It is sort of a sequel set in the same universe with all of the events of the comic book happening in the 80s, which was when it was written. And I think that’s a smart way to approach it. In an interview with, I think it was the New York Times, the showrunner Damon Lindelof sort of said that he wanted to take what Alan Moore, the original creator did with the original series, which was sort of approach these real world issues in the context of superheroes, and tackle present day issues in the same manner. And I think that’s a smart choice and a choice that sort of like, very much falls in line with the spirit of the original. “Watchmen,” it’s a very good series, but it’s also very much rooted in 1980s politics, like the sort of Reagan era of politics and Cold War culture, so it wouldn’t necessarily work as a standalone product today.

YARGER: That being said, I think so many things that we’re dealing with culturally in America right now are very similar to the 80s. And so I think the show does a good job blending the two, at least, from my perspective, watching it felt very connected to today. And when you think about other superhero movies or shows like sometimes they feel very disconnected from our time, and that’s a cause for some people to not enjoy them anymore.

CHAPMAN: Yeah, that’s another thing if this was a straight adaptation it of the comic book it would not feel as relevant and as important as this. So let’s actually talk about the subject matter. So the opening, it begins with a silent film of a real life historical figure, Bass Reeves. He was one of the first black deputy marshals in America. Then it pivots and does this really brutal recreation of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. That was, again, a real historical event and one of the worst events of racist violence in America, I think upwards of 300 people died. it was a coordinated attack from white residents of Tulsa on this black neighborhood, which I think at the time was the wealthiest black neighborhood in all of America. I thought it was very interesting how it opened with this silent film that was this very idealized vision of this black man receiving praise from white citizens and this integrated society, into this really brutal reminder of just how deeply entrenched racial violence and racism is in our culture.

YARGER: Yeah, I thought it was a really shocking but amazing way to open the show and I think contrasted to how we interpret our history, and then also how I feel about the police relations to people of color in today. The flash forward to basically about 100 years later, most of the show takes place in what we would assume is 2019. Yeah, I think they even said at one point, so yeah, about 100 years later after the Tulsa race riot, to a society much like ours, but one thing that’s different is that the police are the police are in conflict with white supremacist groups instead of the police being suspected of being white supremacist groups. And that was really refreshing and almost relieving to see police officers being the superheroes and actually doing the job that I wish they did, now.

CHAPMAN: Yeah. I think that’s an interesting point and one that even though that was very refreshing to see, I can also see why people might find that is offensive to have this show that’s very much about what about racism the reemergence of white supremacy in our culture have cops as the heroes. And I can very easily see people thinking of that as very offensive. but I get the sense there might be more to the police them than we see, there might be some sort of darker things we might learn about them later on. So the police in this in this universe. They all wear masks to hide their identities. And in the original comic, basically the central thesis was anyone who has to wear a mask to fight crime is someone who is just deeply messed up. Like it was basically sort of this deconstruction of the idea of a superhero. So I think in having the police officers wear masks I think that it’s sort of a hint in the direction that the writers will be going.

The way we’re talking about this might make it sound like a huge downer and this very heavy show. It was a real blast to watch in my opinion. I found it really fun. There was so much action, it was very well paced. The music was incredible.

YARGER: I thought it did a really good job mixing up different styles of scenes. So having lighter scenes in contrast to more of the action based fighting scenes. One critique, I will say that I have for almost every action movie, it’s too dark. Maybe that’s part of the style. But I want to see the fight choreography, like, I want to see what you’re doing, I want to see those details because that makes it all the more entertaining for me. And when it’s too dark, and I just hear, you know, punch sound effects. I don’t really feel as engaged anymore. So that is probably one of my only critiques of the show.

CHAPMAN: I was here for Regina King as the main character. I thought she was awesome. Her costume was incredible. It’s like one of my favorite live action costumes. Just like everything about it, the hood, the police badge, it was just on point.

YARGER: I think something interesting to talk about, everything about the show is obviously very focused on race. One thing that I thought was really interesting was that she had white children. So that’s something that’ll be really interesting to see, as the show goes on is like, what role does race play in this universe? And is it similar to ours? Or is it completely different? Because obviously, like there is white supremacy and so that is a problem. But then, is it entirely similar to the white supremacy we see in America today, or is it going to look different?

CHAPMAN: Yeah, and this is a universe where reparations exists. They’re called Redfordations after Robert Redford, who in this universe has been president since the 1980s. So this is a universe where reparations exists and have happened on a national scale, which obviously makes things different. Even if white supremacy is still an issue that is affecting the world we’re seeing.

YARGER: I think that they took a lot of risks as far as what they included in the storyline and how they’re setting up the entire series. And honestly, I think we’re going to have to wait and see which ones pay off and which ones don’t. I can see a lot of opportunity for really, really great themes to be discussed in events that take place, but it also is a little bit precarious in the way that is handling these issues. And it could go downhill very quickly.

CHAPMAN: Yeah, one thing. It’s definitely a show that is handling a lot of tough subject matter and you sort of have to wait. So the ending of the episode is one of the main characters Jud who’s a police officer, he gets hanged on a tree, in a way that is very reminiscent to lynching, by a black man, and days after this premiered, Donald Trump made a comment about how impeachment inquiries were similar to lynchings, which caused a lot of backlash online and a lot of discussion about the racial history of lynching. And so yeah, so the way it’s handling this,
it’s hard to talk about because there’s a lot that could go wrong. And I hope, and I think that they’ll do it correctly. But there is that chance and I can understand people not wanting to watch this show, also, because it hits so close to home for a lot of people.

YARGER: And then it’s important to note that the man at the end, who presumably hangs the police officer was the boy from the beginning. Which I think is really interesting. And I also am really curious to see what role he will play in future episodes. Because at the moment, it’s very unclear what his intentions are and also like what he learned throughout his lifetime that’s going to affect the course of events in the university in the town that’s currently happening on the show. Also, one thing that’s probably important to note is that this is a superhero show, but I actually did not see any superpowers. I saw some bada–ery. However, I didn’t see anything supernatural. And so that’ll be interesting to see if that gets revealed over time about who actually has superpowers and doesn’t. But at the moment, we don’t know yet.

CHAPMAN: Yeah, so in the original series, there’s only one person with legitimate powers, but I think there’s a high possibility that that can that could change and like they could reveal some more stuff.

YARGER: I think they use some really interesting technology in the show with the pod, I was very intrigued by, but also, I was realizing that all of the technology that they do have was definitely stuff we could have today. Nothing was too out of the ordinary and that was also really cool because it really kept you in the present day. While you’re watching the show, nothing was too futuristic that you just kind of thought about it as a sci fi.

CHAPMAN: It’s just such a very cool world that comments on our own in very interesting ways. And it leaves me wanting to learn more. And also it helps that a lot of the characters are just very intriguing. Regina King, I really love her. She does a great job in this. I think she’s very intriguing and very likable early on. And a lot of the other characters are very interesting. Like I wanted to learn more about the police officer with a panda mask.

YARGER: Who’s the guy with the silver mask?

CHAPMAN: That’s Wade, played by Tim Blake Nelson.

YARGER: I’m really curious about Wade.

CHAPMAN: Yeah, he’s a tricky one. That scene of that interrogation gave me very strong dystopian vibes, which I think is another reason I’m very interested in learning more about how the police force works in this world.

YARGER: Also, how militaristic the police were especially in the scene where the captain was kind of addressing the entire force? Yeah, gave me very militaristic slash dystopian vibes. That being said, their weaponry is much more controlled on a day to day basis than ours is. So the whole scene at the beginning, this is crucial to me. I think this is maybe one of the most impactful scenes, where a black police officer pulls over a white man. And this total role reversal of what you’re seeing in the news, and the black man believes that he is carrying something illegal. He believes that he’s drunk, which we have like, hints towards in the way that it’s filmed. The police officer goes back to his car and has to ask for permission to release his gun to go go check out the scene. And before he’s able to actually like release it, The white man pulls out a shotgun and shoots him multiple times through the windshield of his cop car. So even though there’s this role reversal of who is technically in power, there’s a black man as a police officer, but the police officer should give him power, We’re still seeing the power structure of the white man being able to like to be able to do violence towards somebody who is like in a minority group or is a person of color.

CHAPMAN: That was definitely, right after the cold open, that was also a ballsy way to open.

YARGER: Ballsy, that is the word for it. yeah.

CHAPMAN: So Don Johnson as the police chief Judd Crawford. He dies at the end of this episode. I get the sense he’s probably going to come back in flashbacks or things like that. I don’t know. I got the sense from the first episode that he and and, and Angela, who Regina King’s character, have a lot of history and I’m very interested to sort of unpack that and sort of see their relationship because they seem almost like a family rather than just colleagues.

YARGER: That’ll be really interesting to see. And also the decision to make him a very likable character with the scene where he sings the song from “Oklahoma” at the dinner table, makes you sort of empathize with him and then immediately killing him off shows kind of, I feel like predicts the type of show where this with a lot of deaths, where they don’t give a lot of care to their characters. You think everybody’s gonna make it to the end, but I wouldn’t be so sure.

CHAPMAN: Yeah, there is a lot of “Oklahoma” in there. There was the performance of “Oklahoma” that Judd went to, then he sung the song and then it ended with another song from “Oklahoma.” I think it’s interesting, “Oklahoma” is a very idealized portrait of Oklahoma, It’s a very rosy picture. So I think having these traces of it in this show contrast with the sort of brutal reality it portrays is definitely intentional.

YARGER: Yeah. All right, any final thoughts?

CHAPMAN: I just want to say, Angela’s husband is very attractive.

YARGER: There are a lot of attractive characters in this show. Like if you have no other reason to watch it, watch it because Regina King is hot and so is her on-screen husband.

CHAPMAN: Yeah. Honestly, that’s reason enough for me.

CHAPMAN: That’s it for this week’s Podculture.

YARGER: We’ll be back in two weeks. See you next time.