Director Bong Joon Ho’s last film, Snowpiercer knocked my socks off so I was really looking forward to this one. As a whole, it delivered, but there are some weird choices.
Okja is a super pig, a new kind of animal that its owner, the Miranda Corporation, promises will be a world changing animal. Non-GMO, terrific for the environment and a new source of food for the growing world population. Over 10 years, the Miranda Corp has rolled out a plan to introduce this new species to the world. A few of these infant animals are sent across the globe to farmers who will raise them and then a “Worlds Greatest Super Pig” competition will be held to celebrate this wonderful project.
Mija is a young woman in South Korea who, with her uncle (grandfather?), raise Okja. Then the Miranda Corp comes a calling and it becomes immediately clear that the Corporation has been less than truthful. This film takes a look at how the human population survives and thrives today and the morals that come with it. There are so many people consuming so many resources that it’s a constant race to keep ahead of it all. Marketing and profit rule our capitalist planet and any lie is worth telling to sell a product.
Much of the movie is about the ethics of the meat industry. Okja is designed to tug at the heart strings. She’s super cute, gentle and smart to the level of being problem solvers (these super pigs are not cows or chickens in the brains department). There’s a personification to Okja where she has a personality and the visual FX are good enough to make you think that she’s real.
Once Okja is taken from her home, Mija is on a mission not to rescue her pet, but her family member. You got all the battles of humanity here. The Miranda Corporation is heartless and gross who frame everything as they’re doing all this for the great good of humans. Ethics and compassion be damned, these critters are made to be delicious and profitable. The Animal Liberation Front is the animal activists on the case to stop Miranda and expose what they are really up to (Okja is genetically modified and these sentient beings are being made simply for mass slaughter).
Okja is a really well story that is all things you’d expect in a tale like this. Touching, exciting, heroic, maddening and crushingly sad. The last act of the movie is some crushing stuff, it can get hard to watch. While the special effects bring Okja to life, the live cast makes everything believable. Tilda Swinton, Giancarlo Esposito, Steven Yeun, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal round out the well-known cast members. Korean actress Seo-Hyn Ahn as Mija is easily the best though. Her journey is a harrowing one and every step, jump, slide, crash, and plea is a meaningful one.
Now for the two things that stick out to me. The way the Super Pig Competition goes down in New York City is really half baked. Sure the event was a sham in the end, but I don’t see how putting up a clearly stressed animal (even under the ideal circumstances the Miranda Corp thought it was going to go down) was going to give the public good feels about it. Then we have Jake Gyllenhaal as Johnny Wilcox, a Steve Irwin type animal TV personality. I don’t understand why they had this character act that way. He doesn’t match what’s going on at all. He sticks out so much from the rest of the movie it’s like Willy Wonka showed up on the Titanic. Distracting and ultimately useless, the character could have been cut entirely and not be missed.
The ending is probably the only way that it could have been done to make it satisfying and complete. I’d call it realistic as it straddles the line of being too happy to be believable and too upsetting that it would turn off a large part of the audience. Plus, Mija gets in done in a way that fits one of the major themes of the movie. It makes sense and it works.
Overall an effective and well made movie. Recommended.