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Parasite and The White Tiger: Parallel film review

I recently watched Ramin Bahrani’s film adaption of The White Tiger, based on a novel by Aravind Adiga about an ambitious young taxi driver in India fighting to escape the poverty that he grew up in. And I realized that it reminded me of a similarly eerily offbeat and dark comedy film, Parasite, the 2019 Academy Award winner for Best Picture directed by Bong Joon-ho, about two Korean families on different ends of wealth and security and their interactions with one another. In both films, we see the wealthier families view the main characters as lesser-than employees, while the main characters try to redefine their potential for success. And both stories illustrated how large socioeconomic differences that create vastly contrasting life circumstances led to inevitable classism from some characters and desperate acts for survival and justice by others.

There are those who are thriving, those who are surviving, and those who are striving. The White Tiger‘s main character, Balram, and Parasite‘s main characters, the Kim family, are those striving for a better life. Their main counterparts, Balram’s boss and his family and the Park family that employs the Kims, are thriving by societal standards of wealth and success. Balram’s family living in rural India and the Park’s previous housekeeper and husband (spoiler alert!) secretly living in a secret basement bunker fall under those barely surviving. Unlike this third set of characters who have accepted their fate to live in poor living conditions and no freedom, our main protagonists in both films strive to emulate, be accepted by, and take advantage of their thriving counterparts when possible. They try to rid themselves of the mentality and habits associated with being poor while pleasing their bosses, engaging in a grapple between their identities of who they are and who they want to be or be seen as.

The main characters try to stay in the good graces of their bosses due to the power imbalance that can determine major aspects of their life; however, this breeds spite and anger when the boundaries of classism seem impossible to break. In The White Tiger, Ashok and his wife Pinky are portrayed as relatively kind and forward-thinking bosses to Balram, while the rest of the family blatantly abuse him verbally and physically. That being said, although they say they don’t care about castes, the young couple who Balram drives around still carry a sense of superiority and entitlement over him, showing unintentional classism from patronizing language or sheer ignorance of where Balram comes from and how he sees the world. Similarly, in Parasite, although the Park family are portrayed as an arguably nice and normal family, there are hints of behaviours throughout the film that show they ultimately do not see the Kims as their equals, from multiple mentions of the stench of the ‘poor’ to the unquestionable entitlement they feel they have to their employees’ time and energy even in the situation of (another spoiler!) losing their home or facing death. The life experiences between the wealthy and poor portrayed in these films are so different that they inevitably fail to relate to one another and are unable to coexist without the acknowledgement of inequality that causes either classism or resentment.

In the beginning of the films, we are introduced to our main “striving” protagonists, Balram and the four members of the Kim family. Their “thriving” counterparts, Ashok and his family in The White Tiger, and the Parks in Parasite, ultimately reflect the rigidity of the socioeconomic system in their classism whether it is displayed blatantly or subconsciously. The rigid boundary between their social circumstances seem unbreakable to the protagonists, who are treated with degradation by their employers despite their best efforts to be kind and agreeable. The humiliation and frustration that our main characters endure push them to desperation as they try to hang on to their dignity and dreams. In both films, this desperation leads to (spoilers again!) murder, one out of rage and the other out of strategy. In Parasite, Mr. Kim stabs Mr. Park due to his dismissal of Mr. Kim’s situation as he holds his dying daughter, as all the spite and injustice that has built up over the course of his employment becomes too much to handle. In The White Tiger, realizing that he would not be able to advance in his career without any capital and that his employers ultimately did not care about him, Balram resorts to murdering his boss in order to have a chance at fulfilling his potential. In either case, these characters are pushed to a breaking point to defy the system in some way, and end up committing these heinous crimes.

While we can sympathize with the motivations of these characters’ actions, either driven by defending honour or pursuing ambition, it is a scary thought to think about what people can be capable of when they feel like they have nothing to lose. Sadly, in the case of the Kims, their family ends up in worse conditions, with the father trapped in hiding, the mother taking care of a disabled child, and one child dead. Even in the case of Balram, who uses the stolen money to start his own successful business, he must cut ties with his roots as he sacrifices the fate of his family for his new future. Both Parasite and The White Tiger present a story of escape from poverty and the effects of socioeconomic status on how people interact with one another, reminding us about the harsh reality of competition and unfairness that still exist in modern societies.

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Another haiku

Blossoms announce the season
With joy and achoos


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In and out

In and out
The waves go in and out
Licking the shore and reshuffling shells and stones
Rolling and crashing against one another
Doubts and a wrenched gut
Paranoia and sweat
A wave that comes in
But does not go out
A battle of rationality and emotion in the mind
Rolling and crashing against one another
In and out
You try to breathe in and out
Create the waves that move in rhythm
Waves that bring in the new
Waves that take away the old
In and out
In and out

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Comparison is the thief of joy – thoughts on competition and happiness

In the famous Capuchin monkey experiments (Brosnan & de Waal), a monkey is perfectly content with cucumber as a reward. However, after seeing a neighbouring monkey receive grapes instead, it becomes angry and rejects the cucumber, refusing to perform any tasks for the previously accepted reward.

Are we humans the same? Without the knowledge that something better exists we cannot desire that thing in the first place or end up feeling jealous.

At the same time, as social beings it is important to learn from others and their experiences. Through observations about what others do, we can gain insight on how to achieve similar goals, learn from their past mistakes, and reflect on our own roles and approaches to life in relation to theirs. Comparison to some degree is inevitable when interacting with others and can help with growth through inspiration, but when it becomes a reason for competition, it can have negative effects.

Some people can become so consumed in gaining more wealth, accomplishments, fame, etc. than others that what they have is never enough. Overworking and constant dissatisfaction have obviously detrimental effects both physically and mentally on the body. Oppositely, seeing others achieve expectations and dreams that they themselves could not or have not can cause some people to accept their inadequacy or adopt a victim mentality, essentially giving up on striving (which is also unhealthy!).

Then again competition is not a bad thing. From an evolutionary perspective, competition is what has driven the billions of organisms alive on Earth to develop through all sorts of pressures in order to survive. Sometimes the strategy is to outcompete other species for resources, other times it is to achieve synergy with other species. I think humans are generally competitive by nature and seek out knowledge and technology from a drive to know and achieve more. Competition between individuals pushes for adaptation and growth that goes beyond physical survival. We compete for status, popularity, and even happiness.

“The grass is always greener on the other side.” This is particularly true when viewing content in social media that are the highlight reels of other people’s lives. Having an online presence is becoming more and more of a necessity for both everyday and professional lives and it has fundamentally changed the way we can control and distort presentation of ourselves to others. Through a glimpse of people’s lives from text updates on a new job, smiling photos, and videos of fun events it seems possible to measure up our social successes and happiness against others’.

Of course, comparison does not always mean to others ‘doing better’ but can also apply to those ‘doing worse’. I don’t think either are very helpful when the conclusion of the comparison is seen as objective truth. The metric for success is individual in that everyone has their own strengths, passions, and path to achieve what they can and want in life. And the metric for success is comparative in that there will always be someone who is better than you at something. These two statements do not negate each other.

So comparison fires up a competitive drive. That causes growth. Yet we all want to be winners. And that causes us to be less happy.

So what’s better, to be in ignorance and bliss as the monkey that only knows cucumbers as a possibility or to sacrifice a bit of joy for the knowledge that something better, like grapes, is out there?

Here is a video about the research on Capuchin monkeys and unequal pay.

Thanks for reading,

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In between – a haiku

Sunny but wind chill,
Who knows how to dress in this
In between weather?


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Toes – a haiku

Dance! Freedom in space
Go wild but careful not to
Step on someone’s toes

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I never know how exactly to start introducing myself. Of course it depends on context, I wouldn’t begin by listing my academic achievements at a friend’s birthday dinner or by detailing my family background on the first day of work. But the safe option of “Hello my name is … and here’s what I do” sounds so unimaginative.

So I thought it would be fun to come up with a list: what are some unexpected ways that you can introduce yourself?

  1. State some things that you dislike.
  2. Describe yourself using adjectives you wouldn’t use for dating apps.
  3. Share some positive observations you have about the people around you. (How you see other people can reflect a lot about yourself.)
  4. Tell the story of your most recent failure. And what you learned from it.
  5. Talk about what you want to do in the future instead of what you are doing now or what you have done in the past.
  6. Sing or rap your way through your spiel. Dance moves optional.
  7. Be concise and engaging, but don’t mention your name.

And that’s all she could think of tonight! Trying to post daily, whatever content that might be.

Thanks for reading,


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Cartwheel – a cinquain

When he smiles my
Insides do a cartwheel
Tumbling off the edge into skin

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Bones – a haiku

Don’t dig up old bones
They can become skeletons
You don’t want to see

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Directions to…

Illustration by Gyo Fujikawa

I know a place where the elves and the gnomes
Hide and seek among toadstools by arbor homes
I know a place where the fairies bathe
In violet waters under waterfall sprays

Bring some water and snacks ’cause it’s quite a long walk
Follow the ringing of bells to the city hall clock
Take a left at the stop sign beside the corner store
And continue on until you see the sparkling shore

Now by the beach there is an old water fountain
Circle three times and find an acorn on a button
Touch it with a twig that you’ve found in the sand
And watch the reveal of an entrance to the land

Of singing daisies and frogs that can fly
Go through the brambles of eyeball berries, don’t ask me why
Tiptoe across the chocolate bridge, careful not to wake the troll
And through the psychic forest where trees can see into your soul

When you hear the mermaids singing, you are very, very close
Keep following the path where fairy dust has gathered the most
Turn a gentle right as you reach the pond of bubbling beer
And there you have it friend, your destination is here!

Last poem for the last day of NaPoWriMo! The prompt was to write directions to any place, I chose a magical one this time around. Sad that poetry month is coming to an end, but I suppose it doesn’t mean I can’t write poems now and then. (I’ve gotten used to writing in rhyme, to get rid of that tendency will take some time!)

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