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For two films separated by seventy years and an ocean, Parasite and Sunset Boulevard have more in common than you’d expect.
As detailed in the latest video essay by Lessons From the Screenplay, the two films are excellent and complementary examples of the disillusionment arc, a narrative structure where a character has a dream and appears to achieve it, only to realize that their dream is hollow. Unlike narratives built around positive change, where facing reality allows characters to become their best selves, disillusionment arcs see their characters shattered and maddened by the realization (or denial) that their goals are unobtainable.
Parasite and Sunset Boulevard are built around arcs that see ambitious characters lie and scheme to achieve their dreams, only to be confronted with the hard truth that sometimes a dream is just that: a dream. The failed screenwriter Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard and the struggling Kim family of Parasite are desperate for money and are willing to sacrifice their integrity in order to gain the wealth they believe will solve all their problems. Even if it means getting deep in a lie. Both Gillis and Ki-woo seize opportunities they think will help them better their positions and sweet-talk people who represent the dreams they are pursuing: the once-successful silent film star Norma Desmond and the affluent Park family, respectfully. While their third acts diverge, both films’ characters’ schemes invariably backfire with tragic results.
Disillusionment arcs tell stories of wisdom begot by sorrow. And while films about unsettled beliefs and difficult truths may not be the most uplifting, as the comparison of Parasite and Sunset Boulevard emphasizes, they are certainly among the most resonant.
You can watch “Parasite vs. Sunset Boulevard – The Disillusionment Arc,” here:
Who made this?
This video comes courtesy of Lessons From The Screenplay, the consistently insightful video essay channel created and run by Michael Tucker. Lessons From The Screenplay focuses on analyzing movie scripts to determine exactly how films tell effective stories. You can check out Lessons From The Screenplay’s YouTube channel here. And you can follow Tucker on Twitter here.
More Videos Like This
- Here’s another Parasite related essay from Lessons From the Screenplay on how the film leverages the power of symbols to strengthen its themes.
- The Writers Guild Foundation’s YouTube account has a marvelous mini-doc about Billy Wilder’s career.
- The fine folks over at Screenprism have a wonderful video about how Sunset Boulevard critiqued Hollywood’s toxic star machine.
- Here’s the foreign film-focused Accented Cinema on why Parasite is the perfect case study for film students and shows how the mastery of cinematic language can elevate films into an arthouse classic.
- Film Radar has a clear, informative video about how Parasite uses cinematic language to tell the story of the harsh realities of class inequality.
- Another Lessons From the Screenplay banger on how Blade Runner crafts its future noir genre mashup.