‘Parasite’ Director Bong Joon Ho Explains the ‘Cruel and Sad’ Ending of the Award-Winning Film

People cannot stop talking about Parasite. The film became the unexpected gem of Cannes, taking home the coveted Palm d’Or before sweeping the nation with Academy Award nominations. Anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet is missing out.

Parasite thrives because of its timely themes and thanks to the insane talent of director Bong Joon-ho. Mainstream audiences are willing to overcome the language barrier and contend with subtitles because of the brilliance of the film. It’s a dark comedy thriller with difficult scenes, but it’s an important statement on society, too.

Plenty of moviegoers wish that the film had ended on a positive note rather than with the bleak final scene. But Joon-ho explained during an interview why that last heart-wrenching scene was necessary for the story.

Warning: There are significant spoilers ahead for the movie ‘Parasite.’  

Cast of Parasite
Cast of ‘Parasite’ | ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

‘Parasite’ is filled with metaphors

“That’s a metaphor!” is a common refrain throughout the movie, which is especially humorous because it shows the director poking fun at his own cleverness. The movie is entertaining enough on a surface level but when you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a film rife with symbolism and “Aha!” moments.

One of the most obvious of these is the way the Kim family lives partially underground while the wealthy Park family enjoys life from up above on a hill, ignorant to the problems of the lower classes. The movie opens with Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) hunting for a Wi-Fi signal in an attempt to better his station. And, in a nod to the film’s title, Ki-woo is already leeching off someone else to feed his own needs. Just like a parasite.

There are multiple scenes showing family members crawling around on hands and knees to remain out of sight or even writhing on their bellies. The fact that they resemble bugs in their movements is quite intentional.

The movie changes into something else entirely

Filmgoers report feeling like the movie is one thing before turning into something entirely different more than halfway through. Like a stunning metamorphosis, Parasite transforms from an enjoyable story of deception into an all-out bloodbath that’s terrifying and inevitable.

The Kim family may have continued getting away with their trickery if not for someone living even lower underground — both literally and metaphorically — than they were. The fired housekeeper Mun-kwang (Lee Jeong-eun) reveals that her husband has been secretly living in an underground bunker beneath the Park family’s house all along.

The Kims should have been more sympathetic, but instead they react with disgust at the situation. Eventually, this attitude leads to an elaborate cover-up and several deaths of the main characters. Then, Kim family patriarch Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) takes his place as the person living underground in secret.

The last scene of ‘Parasite’ is heartbreakingly bleak

The second to last scene of the movie shows a flash-forward of Ki-woo grown and purchasing the former Park residence with his vast wealth, which would finally allow his father to go free from the secret bunker. But instead of ending the movie on that hopeful note, Joon-ho instead returns to the cramped, dirty subterranean apartment in the film’s final moments.

He admits that it’s a painful yet necessary moment. “Maybe if the movie ended where they hug and fades out, the audience can imagine, ‘Oh, it’s impossible to buy that house,’ but the camera goes down to that half-basement,” he told Vulture.

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“Son. I’m proud of you.”

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“It’s quite cruel and sad, but I thought it was being real and honest with the audience. You know and I know — we all know that this kid isn’t going to be able to buy that house. I just felt that frankness was right for the film, even though it’s sad.”

Parasite is a harsh criticism of current society. And even though that last scene could have been happier, ultimately, it’s the truth-telling that resonates with fans.