Adjacents: Comments on class inspired by the film ‘Parasite’

 

True art leaves an impression on you that can last for hours. ‘Parasite’ will last me for a longer time than that. The film has so many messages, the strongest one being on class struggle. It tells the tale of the intertwining relationship between two families, one poor and one rich. It begins as a piece on human relations and the tension that comes from having two different classes inhabiting the same space, before it twists and turns to become this piece on humanity itself and what we truly want in life.

After the film let out, I decided to go for a little walk. This was part impulse. After a good movie, I like to walk and think about what I’d seen. But then, still feeling the weight of the film’s issues on my mind, I walked to a street I’d planned on walking to  for a couple of weeks now. You see, earlier this year in the summer, I’d stumbled on a side street. I don’t remember the specifics, but that I’d felt such comfort from seeing its houses. If I ever got the money, I thought, I was going to live on this very street. As I walked and looked around me to the houses, I began to have that old feelings again.

I’ve been familiar with Lincoln Park since the early years of my young adult life. Even before moving to the city, I would take drive Highway 55 to Fullerton Avenue to visit my friend Eric at DePaul University. Walking the side streets in every season of the year is where I first fell in love with Lincoln Park and the Chicago well-to-do that it cradled gently in its arms. The old three-story brick stone buildings stood in their old glory, showing their living rooms so unabashedly. And with young, dreamy eyes, I’d peek into them. Their character and their style, both outside and inside, gave me such a joy. To me, at that time, these homes were more satisfying than any art gallery studied or any symphony heard because it was something that, if I worked hard enough and sacrificed enough for, I had a chance to obtain myself. This is the American Dream. And I’ve been dreaming it ever since.

As I walked last night, I indulged in this habit with a reignited joy. That is my Steinway piano posing in the window. That is my eight-foot bookcase made of rescued African rosewood. My Italian marble fireplace. Those are my Christmas decorations and that is my magnificent Christmas tree. The place smells faintly of whiskey, oak, and spruce. I love wearing my grey cashmere sweater. That’s my newly refurnished dining room and my living room, both with hand-crafted Russian crystal chandeliers hanging in the air like twin archangels of God. My garage is heated, my cars are clean and state-of-the-art.

That is my beautiful wife, that is my housekeeper. I have my driver the night off. Sometimes kids are running around the house, sometimes they’ve never existed. I dream as each house shows me how to dream and I am exactly as each house shows me to be. I leech from its amber glow the warmth of hope, of comfort, of power, of confidence, and of beauty. I am a better man when I am in these houses, and I am a much happier one.

There’s me me sitting in my reading chair, sipping my wine and reading the paper. I glance out to the boy in the winter coat walking furiously past my bay window, glancing in. I ponder what I once was when I was in his shoes. This city was so cold to me, too, wasn’t it? I barely remember those fellow train riders, those coworkers, those linestanders, those pedestrians.

Because I’ve ‘made it’ now, somehow, like a soldier makes a tour, like a factory worker makes another day, like a mother makes another child. I am stronger for it, smarter and better, too. That’s the key word, isn’t it–better. Life is a process, I say to myself as I sip my wine and read my paper. And here I am living, finally, a life of comfort, ease, and responsible lavishness. As the mother in ‘Parasite’ Kim Chung-sook comments: “Money is a great iron that smooths all your creases.”

But the more houses I peeked into, the more ill I felt as I realized what I was doing. The futility of what I’d been doing with these houses stunned me; and the truth rings loud in that line “doing with”.  An act of pornography had taken place, it seemed, and I recall now how Joyce called pornographic any art that moves your desire towards obtaining it. This was one of the main messages of the film–our desires to obtain this American Dream.

Every second we’re alive, we are simultaneously ashamed of who we are while desiring who we wish we could be if only we could have enough money to obtain. ‘Parasite’ is a movie about the stench of that rotten corpse in the basement of our psyches called Desire. Or call it The American Dream or Mercedes Benz or Nobel Prize for Literature or Emmy or Oscar. Call it Lincoln Park or Andersonville or Evanston.

Whatever it is you think will make you happier, it won’t. And the stench that lingers over everything is the smell we call Money. This smell twists our minds so that we hallucinate, clutching at even its vapor trails for satiety. But unlike a lot of films that pursue this very human urge to possess things to make us happy, it gives us an ending that leaves us twisting in our seats with uncomfortable familiarity, reminding us where are desires come from is a deep place of longing and hurt.

Write what you love. Just write it. Don’t forget how to love what you love. And definitely don’t think that anything outside of yourself, especially objects and possessions, will ever, ever make you a better person. It doesn’t matter what the hell it is, write. And understand that the things that block you are the things you used to peer into like a window when you were a young ambitious man or woman. Somehow, somewhere, the dream that we kept dreaming failed us. We must dream another dream, a healthier dream.

Listen to your heart. Be brave. Stop when you can to compare your life to everyone else, especially the ‘successful’ and the ‘rich’. This film presents, in so many keen, smart strokes, the parasitic lives we live when we fantasize and imitate our culture’s darlings.

“If you understand that suffering arises when we want our current experience to be something other than what it is, you’ll see how much we, and not events, bring about our suffering.”

— Laraine Herring, The Writing Warrior

Create and Complete

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