Okja 🍖 Film Review


Written by Thelonia

I had high hopes going into Okja. I really enjoyed director Bong Joon-ho’s previous film, 2013’s Snowpiercer, and Okja, produced by Netflix, promised to be a feel-good adventure-filled romp built around a young girl and her superpig. I even defended it when shit went down at Cannes and it got booed for forgoing movie release standards.

But what I got instead when I sat myself down for an animal caper was a solid two hours of misery and heavy-handed condemnation of the meat industry.

Context is important here, because this movie was almost entirely built around how cute the superpig, Okja, is, as well as her friendship with the girl that raised her. At least that's what you get from the trailer:

But then you get to the movie and the cute/happy scenes are over within the first ten minutes and the literal rest of the movie is a chase scene against Okja being murdered. And those ten minutes include a scene where Okja falls off a cliff to save her caretaker, Mija’s, life.

Take a long look because this is the last happy thing you’ll be seeing for a while.

The plot is this: a meat company, the Mirando Corporation (Monsanto who????), run by a be-wigged Tilda Swinton as Lucy Mirando (and her conniving twin sister, Nancy, played with a different wig and false teeth), has discovered a new farm animal: the superpig. These pigs have more meat on them and produce less waste then regular pigs (and they taste “fucking delicious”), and are the solution to the overpopulation and food shortage currently threatening the world. Unfortunately, they take a long time to grow to adult size – ten years to be precise.

As a solution to this problem, as well as a way to promote the global good the superpigs will do, the Mirando Corporation sends out 26 superpigs around the globe to be raised by local farmers.

One of these is Okja.

Can Tilda Swinton be bribed in wigs? Survey says yes.

Okja is raised in Korea by Mija and her grandfather. They live idyllically together, running wild through lush forests and getting into hijinks where one of them will fall off a cliff (but it's fine!!!!), and Mija, who has grown alongside Okja, is very attached to her superpig friend. Her grandfather promises her that Okja is theirs, that he has paid for her and all will be well, but considering this is just the beginning of the movie, it seems likely that things aren’t going to go quite according to plan. Mija, who does not realize she is in a movie, does not see this coming.

When a distressingly strange man (played by Jake Gyllenhaal as a proto Steve Irwin if he was terrible) hikes up the mountain to where Mija lives to see Okja on behalf of the Mirando Corporation, the audience’s fears are confirmed: Okja gets taken away and shipped to New York City. But not before Mija chases after her for a bit and the film becomes a heist movie for a bit.

In the midst of a chase scene involving Mija, Okja, and a truck, the ‘resistance’ fighters of the film appear: these are the ALF (the ‘Animal Liberation Front’). And they sort of incompetently stage a series of coups throughout the film in an effort to free the superpigs, and Okja in particular.

I'm pretty sure they spend 80% of their time just planning cool poses and outfits rather than their actual plans.
They are led by Paul Dano, whom I do not acknowledge as a human being outside of this one image from a "reasons we broke up" compilation I saw on the internet years ago.

He does not exist for me outside of this image.

He, along with other ALF members played by the likes of Lily Collins and Steven Yeun (among others), are trying to get a hold of Okja - which lines up briefly with Mija's goal of saving her. The ALF’s scheme, once they’ve rescued Okja, is to send her on her way to New York with Mirando, but with a camera on her, so they can get footage to show the people the evils of the Mirando Corporation. They get Mija's permission to send Okja back into danger via Steven Yeun acting as a translator, and leave Okja and Mija back in the hands of the Mirando Corporation, who drag the two off (though seperately, of course).

Okja is sent to the US but Mija, though initially left behind, is soon to follow thanks to a sponsorship by the Mirando Corporation in an effort to fight against the bad press they got when the cops very publicly dragged a small child away from her animal best friend on the behest of this Corporation.

The movie up until this point is a mix of children’s movie about a child and their animal, and a mad caper (filled with hijinks and a strange kind of comedy). However, from here on till the end it’s basically a horror/war movie.

A lot happens and it’s all pretty unappealing, but in summary: Okja gets taken to the Mirando lab which is in New Jersey, underground, and appears to be modeled off of that one laboratory in Alien: Resurrection, with all the rejected Ripley clones.

There is no difference here.
(Save lighting)

There, Okja runs into Jake Gyllenhaal's animal show host, who has clearly suffered some kind of mental break off-screen somewhere (not that he was that sane and normal to begin with, but still.) He unleashes a huge hideously disfigured superpig male into Okja’s room, where what is essentially a rape takes place (thankfully, not fully on screen, but the audio does come through loud and clear). The ALF (and the audience) watches on in horror, though unlike the ALF, we are not the ones who sent her in there for video proof (and it turns out that Steven Yeun may have lied a bit when it came to Mija’s ‘volunteering’ of Okja earlier – he gets beat up by Paul Dano for that one – and then expelled from the group, which is bad because he's very clearly the best one).

Okja then suffers some more – back onscreen this time: Jake G. sticks her with a ‘meat extractor’ to get some samples for a taste test (she is, apparently, delicious, as promised by Tilda).

Meanwhile Mija, brought to NYC for the superpig parade and a dramatic reunion with Okja, which is going to make Mirando look merciful and completely gloss over the forced separation (although one really wonders what the original plan was after the whole farce was over in the first place – drag the child away from the pig a second time?).

The ALF has a plan to rescue Okja & Mija, but everything during the parade goes horribly wrong. This is mainly because their timing isn’t great (and some traumatic experiences have happened that are hard to overcome) – Okja, instead of recognizing Mija and running away with her pronto, is so traumatized by her experiences that her eyes have turned red (a universal sign for turning bad/evil). But it’s okay, some hugging soon brings her back.

Unfortunately for the two (and the ALF), the cops are on their way, and in very quick order, everyone gets the shit kicked out of them and Okja is taken to the processing plant. Only Paul Dano and Mija escape (thanks to a returned and redeemed (?) Steven Yeun, who, I cannot emphasize enough, is too good to be in this movie).

He has a tattoo of the thing Paul Dano yelled at him when he was
beating the shit out of him, so you know he’s learned his lesson this time.

They track down Okja to a meat processing plant, which appears to be modeled on a gulag in both design and sheer depressing-ness, and the creepily life-like and also very, very sad eyes they’ve managed to program onto their CGI superpigs really come into full force here, as you watch these superpigs (one of them ostensibly Okja, though it takes a bit to find her) get lined up, shot in the head, and cut up. It’s a race against time and they cut it real close, with the gun literally to Okja's head by the end.

Some kind of anticlimactic bargaining happens, with a gold pig that was gifted earlier to Mija by her grandfather to replace Okja gets traded for the real pig. Turns out, you can pay your way out of this problem, and they walk past the doomed superpigs behind their electric fences, the victory a bit marred with the fact that they're traumatized and will never be the same again.

A pair of superpigs push their baby out onto the path, and Okja and Mija manage to smuggle it out in Okja’s mouth, but even this is a minor victory – they’ve saved Okja and this piglet, but there are still countless superpigs who are going to get shot and eaten, and nothing will be done for them.

Yaaaaaaaay we did it...

All joking aside, this movie has promise. It brings up interesting points about the meat industry (although if you’ve ever read an article about the meat industry, you probably already know about the problems raised here – and maybe even more), and the computer-generated superpigs are remarkably life-like and very human. Unfortunately, the rapidly shifting tone as well as a very, very heavy handed message about the evils of both eating meat and capitalism hurt the film.

Who is this movie for? Those who agree with the movie’s message that meat is evil have already seen real-life footage of meat processing plants that are just as, if not more, graphic, and are going to already be on board with your message (in which case, for them this movie is basically just a confirmation that meat is evil?), and you’ll probably turn off those who aren’t by the sheer weight of calling everyone remotely involved in the industry evil.

So if you want to watch a stylish version of Babe with more graphic violence, swearing, and a prolonged animal rape scene, then check out Okja, I guess, but god, why would you want to?

You can find Okja on Netflix.

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