Culture

The Systems of Injustice Behind Parasite and Marie Antoinette

I’m sure you’ll all agree that lockdown living has allowed us to indulge in back-to-back film watching. As a consequence, I’ve found some parallels between unlikely filmic bedfellows which might not have otherwise appeared. Take, for example, Oscar-winning Parasite and the dazzling Marie Antoinette. I found that while the mise-en-scene differentiate greatly from each other, both linger on the issue of class stratification.

At first the similarity might not be so obvious. In Parasite, the director Bong Joon Ho stages a conflict between the privileged and the disadvantaged, represented by the opulence of wealthy family’s mansion and the poorer family’s home, little more than a filthy basement. In Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, the movie depicts the glamorous lifestyle of the French queen, the Archduchess of Austria Marie Antoinette. With a fine eye for detail, director Francis Ford Coppola offers the audience a story as specific to time and place as the raiment of the 1780s which adorn his actors. And yet, despite these superficial differences, both films reveal something about humanity’s common predisposition: the two directors build on an ideological stage of performance that reflects social injustice faced by the lower-classes in modern South Korea and revolutionary France, respectively.

Parasite deals in mundanity and darkness, and indeed ultimately culminates in bloodshed. The gory finale could be seen as the release of suppressed anger aimed towards the rigidity of the South Korean class structure. In Marie Antoinette, although existing in an entirely separate world of privilege in which Kirsten Dunst’s Marie Antoinette and Jason Schwartzman’s Louis XIV are reflected and determined largely by the clothes they wear and the food they eat, this materiality belies a darker truth of corruption not too dissimilar from Parasite. Dunst plays a character who, under the strain of being a monarch, nurses a burgeoning obsession with her dresses and appurtenances. Rather than rebelling against the status quo as in Parasite, she is consumed by the empty glamour of Versailles, before she finds herself on the receiving end of social unrest.

I can’t help but feel rather sorry for these characters, Bong Joon Ho’s Kim and Dunst’s Antoinette, who are eventually engulfed by ‘the system’. While the Kims and Parks are victims of class division, Antoinette, who has to face the guillotine, is in her own way also a victim of socioeconomic disparity. Looking out of my window after finishing these films, I begin to wonder what new movies about social injustice are being put on hold as the pandemic rages on, as well as the true stories of inequality that continue to take place.