Parasite evokes two immediate psychoanalytic references. First, as Lacan articulated, language is a parasite for all speaking beings. Language inhabits us; we are infected with language before birth; and this parasite continues to worm its way through our bodies leaving traces and sometimes eruptions of jouissance. Language enjoys our bodies, and we also enjoy it. Language both paralyzes and animates its host, the speaking being. And, under good circumstances we can make use of it. Secondly, there is the phallic organ, a parasite, because it has a mind of its own, just like the unconscious which speaks and acts against our best intentions.

In the buzzy, highly-acclaimed film, Parasite, which burst onto the scene from South Korean director, Bong Joon-ho, in October 2019, we find another form of parasitism: the object a. Lacan discovered this parasite that mutated over the course of his teachings. The object a is an absence, a hole, a thing always lost, but also a presence that activates the circuits of the drive. It invites fictions of being, semblants and the forms that embody it, like the gaze and the voice, which Lacan added to the Freudian object series. This curious parasite seems to inhabit both the speaking being and the Other, belonging to neither, but connecting the two topologically through the rims of the body. Thus the reason that the object a is so hard to eradicate. It is everywhere and nowhere, wildy contagious, an epidemiological nightmare.

Without spoiling the film, I will point to the specific form of the object a around which Parasite turns. The story finds its consistency in the object a as smell. Smell is formless and invisible, silent but deadly. Bodies leave behind smells as remainders. Their presence can be interpreted as noxious waste (body odor) or evocative beauty (perfume). And the inversion always exists too, depending on the one who smells and the other who smells it: noxious waste (perfume) or evocative beauty (body odor). In the film, Parasite, madness and violence condense around the object smell. This object operates as a narrative odor, faint but persistent, provoking an explosion of jouissance towards the death drive. Unlike the gaze and the voice, that manifest in the sight and sound of film as a medium, the smell never reaches the audience. We only apprehend its effects through the unfolding of subjective ruin.