When looking back on the films that defined 2019, I noticed a trend. Some of the most successful featured characters on the bottom of the economic spectrum, getting vengeance on those at the top. Their successes represent a nostalgia for the lost theater experiences with patriotism to the middle class.
Bong-Joon Ho’s “Parasite” is the easiest to recognize as 2019’s leading “eat the rich” film. Ho’s use of elevation and set design in his class warfare narrative has become a staple of discussing the film. The film’s combative clash of the Kim family’s clever nature and the Park family’s blatant naivete becomes Ho’s playground of character dynamics. The relationship between family leaders Kim Ki-taek (Kang Ho-Song) and Park Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee) is my personal favorite. Ki-taek’s bottled up hatred for Dong-ik and his disgust of lower class citizens is probably a dynamic occurring all over the world today. Hopefully not resulting in the same outcome as the film.
But character dynamics were not unfamiliar to Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out”, a film that ate the rich while parodying modern political stereotypes. The film unlike “Parasite”, told its story through the innocent housekeeper, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), who is thrust into the inner motives of the wealthy Thrombey family. Johnson makes hypocrites out of the entire political spectrum. He creates an exaggerated caricature of the “entitled liberal” with the character Joni Thrombey (Toni Collete), who pretends to be the selfless, moral person but proves herself to be out for the money Cabrera inherits. But he doesn’t spare the other side, creating alt-right internet troll Jacob Thrombey (Jaeden Martell), a quiet character dressed in a suit resembling that of Hitler youth. While “Parasite” was a war between the classes, “Knives Out” was Johnson’s opportunity at satirizing modern political characters.
“Joker” was undoubtedly a study of an isolated character in crumbling urban infrastructure. In the climax, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) literally asks us “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?” However, in “Joker” the forces of evil are the rich elites. They cut mental health programs and social safety nets not looking out at all for the little guy. The film’s characterization of the “mentally ill loner” is consistent with the increase in gun violence in the second half of the decade.
“Ready or Not”, was the film most unashamed of its eat the rich subtext. When Grace (Samara Weaving), a seemingly normal middle-class girl gets married, she discovers her newly wed husband’s family tradition. The film reveals itself early on as a rich-hunt-the-poor premise. The rich family chases down Grace with guns, knives, and axes in their mansion. In a one night fight, Grace kills off the rich family one by one. The film quite literally ends with Grace watching the rich people explode as the sun rises the next morning.
While some are more effective than others, these films demonstrated chauvinism to working families. 2019 was certainly Disney’s year at the box office, distributing 8 out of the 10 highest grossing films, each of these films was a considerable box office success. As a new decade begins and as wealth inequality continues to grow, this trend of eating the rich in movies will likely continue.