When his son, Ki-woo, realizes that it's his father down there, trying to communicate to him nightly by tapping out a letter in Morse code using the same stairway lights that Geun-sae used to "communicate" with Mr. Park, he makes a plan: He'll finally go to school, he'll get rich himself, and in a few years' time he'll buy the house when it goes up for sale, moving himself and his mother into its cavernous halls. As the final montage plays out, we see him, sporting a tailored suit and chic new haircut, walk into the Park mansion's giant living room, past the kitchen, gazing out the window at his mother in the backyard. His father, finally freed from sneaking around inside another person's home in order to survive, steps up out of the basement and walks towards his family.
And then, we cut back to Ki-woo, at home in the Kim family's sub-basement in the poor sector of town, revealing that the entire montage had been a fantasy in the letter that Ki-woo had been writing in response to his father's, knowing that he'll never be able to read it. It's a wonderful, achingly sad moment that brings the whole film back to where it began, and settles it in the unfairness of the real world.
I interviewed director Bong Joon Ho about Parasite, and when we discussed the ending, I asked if that little twist of the knife had always been in the script, or if he'd ever considered allowing the Kim family a happier ending.
"The ending, particularly for the young son, does feel cruel," Bong said. "It's quite sad, because he announces that he will purchase this house, but in reality he's still in that basement home on a snowy night. But I did think that it was necessary to be honest: If I just end this film on an optimistic note, if I'm too easy about it, then I thought that would actually even make the audience even angrier."
When I compared the ending to the sobering finale of Bong's previous film Okja -- in which young Mija rescues her enormous super-pig friend and a tiny piglet from the slaughterhouse, well aware that all the other pigs will die -- Bong said, "Of course. The girl and super-pig finally returned home safely, but they already experienced the horrible things in the system. In some way, maybe something remains. They are back home but something is different. It's not as if she's making a sad face. But you know that she will never be the same."
Bong's movies, especially his latest few, including Parasite, Okja, and his post-apocalyptic bullet-train adventure Snowpiercer, examine the intricacies and inequalities of class through a very damning lens. The end of Parasite, teasing the audience with a neat, happy, literally sunshine and rainbows conclusion to a tale that previously got darker and darker with every scene, is a masterful emotional manipulation (in a good way). Maybe you can beat the system, but living in a fantasy is so much easier.