As Netflix’s newest film offering, Okja, directed by Joon-ho Bong, came with a lot of expectations. The trailers suggested a typical Samson versus Goliath story, with the twist of a giant CGI pig-hippo combo, which left some feeling cold, though thankfully the film exceeds all expectations. It has been hailed as a landmark vegan movie, but I would argue that it isn’t directly aimed at vegans; it simply shows the realities of the meat industry across the world. The characters and plot are woven together amazingly, and work to produce a genuinely moving film.
Okja follows the lives of Okja, a ‘super-pig’ bred by the multinational corporation Mirando as a new, eco-friendly and cost-efficient source of meat, that also happens to “taste f*cking good.” Okja is one of 26 super-pigs sent to farmers around the world to see who can raise the best super-pig. Okja winds up in South Korea, and befriends a young girl called Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn). When Mirando reclaims Okja, Mija sets off across South Korea to rescue her friend.
The characters within the movie are portrayed amazingly. In her first leading role, Seo-Hyun Ahn as an amazing character – she speaks only in Korean, and yet her emotions and personality shine through regardless. Her relationship with Okja is amazingly organic, and Ahn’s ability to create a relationship with something that technically doesn’t exist is testament to her acting skills. Also deserving a mention is the characterisation of Okja herself; to say that she is a collection of pixels, she behaves incredibly realistically – her fear, anger, sadness and nervousness are so easily readable that her story becomes all the more tragic.
“It was infuriating that the ‘good guys’ were shown so negatively.”
Okja is worth congratulating simply because of how vividly it portrays the meat industry. I was shocked at how graphically they show some of its elements; I would not recommend this if you squirm at the slightest gore. The film shows genetically mutated super-pigs that are the by-products of Okja’s own genetic engineering, a horrifying scene in which Okja is forced to breed with an obscenely ooverly-muscular super-pig, a syringe that is used to extract slivers of muscle meat while the super-pigs are still alive, and the eventual slaughter of the super-pigs for their meat. It is upsetting and horrifying, but that is the nature of the meat industry. Okja lays bare the facts within an amazing film; I’ve never seen it done before, but Okja does it perfectly.
That being said, every rose has its thorns, and Okja is no exception. My main criticism is that the ALF – the Animal Liberation Front, who help rescue Okja – are shown as something of a joke. The leader, Jay (played by Paul Dano), is shown as an over-dramatic fanatic, and another member (played by Devon Bostick) refuses to eat anything in order to not have an impact on the planet – at one point his friend (potentially a love interest but this was never made clear) has to force a tomato into him. Animal activists and vegans, tend to be shown negatively in general media anyway, and this film seems to compound that, almost to the extent of making a mockery of them. It was infuriating that the ‘good guys’ were shown so negatively.
“It boasts one of the most intersectional casts seen in recent big-name films, and has a unique and amazing plotline.”
Other elements of the film were also a little confusing; some parts seemed to have no purpose or relevance. Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) was a great character, but I was confused about why she had to have a twin sister (also Swinton) who only featured in the last few scenes. Elsewhere in the film, a member of the ALF admits to lying about something, and Jay responds by viciously beating him up within an inch of his life – all because he went against the credo of the group. Later, Mija appears to forgive her grandfather, despite the fact that he lied to her for ten years and literally gave away her best friend. These moments don’t form a large part of the film, but they were enough to disrupt the flow of the movie, and left some strange unanswered question at the end of the film.
Okja is remarkable. It boasts one of the most intersectional casts seen in recent big-name films, and has a unique and amazing plotline. It was amazing to see how the cast and crew were able to create such an interesting story centred around something that wasn’t actually there. Okja is an adorable not-so-little super-pig, and the relationship between her and Mija is truly special. It left me reconsidering my life and dietary choices, and reinforced my personal motivations; if you watch and don’t begin questioning your diet, then you have a heart of stone. I adore this film, and with murmurings of a sequel already circulating, I can’t wait to see what comes next for Mija and Okja.
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Image courtesy of Kate Street Picture Company.