Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses. – “Killing in the Name”, Rage Against the Machine (1991)
It’s getting so a fella can’t get away from the…sickies no more. -Buddy, Parasite (1982)
Put away your Pumpkin Spice Lattes. While you have been displaying decorative gourds and positioning plastic pumpkins, I have been sweating through the final swampy summer days of Florida. August may have ended, but the first of Fall is officially September 22nd. Like a seagull squeezing stool on your head in early October, I am here to interrupt your premature celebrations with one last Summer Imposition.
Before me, I have the challenge of providing a comparative analysis of two movies so disparate as to make Trump and George Saunders look like twins. The first of these films is entitled Parasite directed by Charles Band (1982), not to be confused with the Best Picture Winning film Parasite (2019), which was directed by Bong-Joon ho.
The year: 1992. The world has ended. Gas is $40.67. Everyone still drives a 1980 Impala. Moving at a herky-jerky pace, Parasite tells the story of Paul Dean (Robert Glaudini), a scientist forced by a government organization called the Merchants to create a pathogen to control the populace. Upon fleeing a Los Angeles lab, Paul accidentally infects himself with the parasite. The audience is informed of all of this through dream-flashback, and then our scientist is rescuing a woman from being violated. What follows is one of the most clumsy uses of extreme slo-mo ever recorded on camera as Paul scuffles with a ruffian. It turns out that the woman was consenting to the man’s actions though. How subversive! Enter Buddy. “It’s getting so a fella can’t get away from the…sickies no more.” He might as well have been commenting on 2020. After a short exchange between the two, Paul barrels away in his stolen ambulance.
Retreating to a rural community in the mountains known as Joshua, the protagonist determines to destroy the being living within him as well as the specimen in a silver canister. As if stepping straight out of a poster for Warriors (1979), a gang of miscreants led by a man named Ricus (Luca Bercovici) confront Paul. But before we get too anxious for our feckless mama’s boy, we must remember that this is the guy who introduced himself earlier as, “Dean. Paul Dean.” Move aside, James Bond.
But these riffraffs are unaware of the contagion confined in the cylinder. Stealing the container, the hooligans are taken aback when the parasite breaks free and invades one of the thugs, eating him from the inside out. Our protagonist can empathize as the spawn inhabiting him has taken up residence in his own abdomen. Forced to eradicate the parasite in his own body as well as the one that escaped, all while being chased by the not-so-subtly-named Merchant Mr. Wolf (James Davidson), Paul enlists the help of a woman named Patricia Wells (played here by a young Demi Moore) whose specialty seems to be growing lemons (a lot of lemonade and tea is consumed in this film). In fact the domesticity of Patricia is juxtaposed to awkward effect with the proliferation of phallic symbols that are given undue screen time (from snakes to the actual parasite’s shape itself). Women are one dimensional creatures and not fully formed characters in this schlock horror flick.
Even Ricus, the gangleader, is given a backstory as he says, “The suburb was where they put orphans like me to work.” No one will confuse Charles Band for Charles Dickens, but the subtext of suburbs becoming a child’s labor camp was more than I expected out of this gory, B-Horror movie. And though only the most deranged of conspiracy theorists count the coronavirus as a government engineered pandemic, there are parallels between the film’s Merchants that release a disease to manipulate citizens and a capitalistic society that sidesteps social distancing and safeguarding measures by lifting a quarantine in order to make a dying economy appear revived. When the government emphasizes making money and giving the appearance of an economic equilibrium over the safety of its citizens by reopening schools, has it not ceased to protect the population and sought its own form of citizen control?
For the purposes of the movie, science wins. Ricus seeks Paul for help, and they form an unlikely alliance to try and remove the remaining parasite from the infected hoodlum. The serpentine critter has burrowed its way out of the gangster and into another member though. Focusing on his own infestation, Paul Dean is able to vanquish the worm in himself by luring it out with an electrical surge because Tesla. Wolf arrives in time to be infiltrated by the parasite and for Patricia, Paul, and Ricus to blow up him, and the contagion, at the local gas station. Roll credits.
Parasite does give a critique, even if it is a thin one, of capitalism and suburban sprawl. At bottom, the movie triggers us to panic about whether or not the authorities can be trusted to look out for our welfare. When a system is founded on the principle of private and individual gain, it should not be any wonder that such a society would be ill-equipped to face a collective crisis that requires communal sacrifice and giving.
Policing also emerges in how Wolf, the Merchant, serves as an extension of the state, a force to curtail those who would seek freedom from the spread of a totalitarian government. It is not happenstance that during COVID-19 we have seen a surge of awareness of issues relating to racial justice. We live in a world that conceives of certain people as Other and then dehumanizes them. Evil is a pestilence from without not a monster from within because otherwise we would have to take a gaze at our own souls. That is why many rally behind Trump’s coinage of the term “kung flu.” Being quarantined, while essential for our own health, has made us realize how divided we are from one another; in addition, the virus is disproportionate in how it effects the population. Sitting from our homes, we have become more attuned to the demolition of black bodies. It was there before, but our isolation has intensified the disparity as well as heightened our understanding of it. Dual diseases are metastasizing: the tendency to alienate and despise others and those who under the power of the law perpetuate injustice among people of color. What should disturb us more than Trump taking a photo-op in front of a church after having peaceful protestors tear-gassed is clergy endorsing such a president because he embodies fiscal conservatism (I’m eyeing you, Al Mohler). Preserving the status quo means police have to patrol and place where certain people groups go in order to guarantee the continuance of a prison-industrial complex and a system that depends upon a specific hierarchy.
Parasite shows that the real infection is in a market-driven focus that displaces the concerns of the suffering and elevates the paranoia-driven impulses of the rich to further insulate themselves from pain or loss. What can be more parasitic than parents pumping their children to school so that they can go back to their six figure jobs while five figure educators risk their health and lives to supervise those kids? As a teacher, I am well-aware of these lop-sided priorities as I see the inequity between my online students and my face-to-face students as well as the risk factors for my fellow instructors who live with immunocompromised individuals.
If this were last year’s imposition, I would be close to done. No thanks to Chris Crane though, I have to keep up the kayfabe of my analysis, as if there were actual commentary to make on this muck. The next move is for me to discuss The Bride (2013), a movie so abysmal that even my imposer confesses to not finishing it (to which I cry, “Foul!”). Director Marcello Daciano’s efforts must have been the result of a bet or his final project for an Intro to Film class. It turns out, as outlandish as this seems, the former is true. As I have just discovered from a quick search through IMDB, Daciano and his writer wagered one another that they could write, direct, and shoot a horror movie in under two weeks for under $10,000 and still manage to sell it. A joke emerged on set (insert predictable comment about the film itself being a joke) referred to as, “The Curse of the Bride” because the director became so sick he had to be hospitalized and the film sold at a loss, requiring the studio to declare bankruptcy.
Too bad this could not have happened before the movie was actually made.
The Bride opens with a PowerPoint presentation of credits and then proceeds to offend women, veterans, immigrants, Native Americans, and anyone with working eyes. The fiance seems to be Tommy Wiseau’s illegitimate son. He has an unplaceable European accent and exists to dote on the titular character. Then, some rednecks break in on the couple’s cabin getaway and murder the husband-to-be before the soon-to-be-bride goes all, in the words of one of the inbreds, “Jason Bourne.”
The movie is 82 minutes (keep in mind that includes time for the elongated PowerPoint opening and closing credits) and I swear that thirty minutes were devoted to an excruciatingly long rape scene. Afterwards, we are rewarded for our mettle with revenge porn as the bride goes on a killing spree.
While looking at The Bride‘s surface might not reveal much similarity with Parasite, both contain examples of objectified women and a method of purging through killing. In Parasite, of course, the government is killing its denizens and unwanted through an artificially created pandemic. In The Bride, however, the protagonist, Kira (Henriette Riddervold) is killing her victimizers in what amounts to wish fulfillment cinema. Neither of these portray women in a dignified way, albeit in different fashions. In Parasite, the women are objectified, shallow, and exist to be rescued by men. As an over-corrective, the central woman of The Bride is flexing to the audience and showing us her guerrilla warfare tactics by dismantling her violators one-by-one. Of course, all this came because she was resurrected and possessed by an Algonquin woman (backstory explained by some introductory text gibberish). In life, at least the first one she had, she was little more than an object. Whether it is the government killing its citizens to retain power or a revived bride killing men to defy the patriarchy, neither is a case of killing that rectifies cosmic injustice. To liberally borrow a phrase from Rage Against the Machine, both are “killing in the name”, one of capitalism and the other of misplaced feminism and yet neither contribute to systemic or institutional overhaul.
There is a killing that does, and it is the killing of the Son of Man, who died for the bride, the church. Now, she lives through him, not to murder others created in the image of God but to murder sin. The patriarch she submits to is not a structure of abusive power but a loving and benevolent Heavenly Father. The bride of God is not in a parasitic relationship with him but a symbiotic one as she is infested not with a worm but the Spirit. Now, as ones who are called to live under the fatherhood of God and as hosts of the Holy Ghost, we are commanded to act as police, as the ambassadors of God carrying not a cop’s badge but the badge of his image.
With summer slipping into Fall, let us take back the land, meaning whatever space we occupy to perform our work, rest, and play. But let us do so as the crucified ones and not the ones who are crucifying, lest we burn the cross and empty it of its power.