Okja, Bong Joon-Ho’s 2017 masterpiece, is a satire on corporate greed and comments on animal cruelty with a very diverse perspective. The film takes place in a post-modern world where The Mirando Company has genetically modified giant pigs and placed them with farmers around the world to see what farming techniques will rear the best “super pig.” The (fictional) Mirando Company will hold a contest after 10 years, hosted by zoologist and spokesperson Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) to present the world’s best super pig at a ceremony in New York City. Mija (Seo-hyun Ahn) and her Grandfather (Byun Hee-bong) live in South Korea with Okja, Mija’s best friend and an incredibly intelligent super pig. After visiting the farm in the stunning mountains of South Korea, Dr. Johnny Wilcox chooses Okja to attend the celebration of super pigs in NYC. Mija, an unbelievably strong young female lead, goes on a ridiculously dangerous and chaotic adventure to rescue her best friend, Okja.
This story solidified my choices to consume a more plant-based diet and nearly made me cancel my subscriptions to big corporations like Amazon. The narrative was perfectly crafted and on par with Bong Joon-Ho’s other major works; Parasite and Snowpiercer. There are major themes of fate and good vs. evil throughout this film that make it a very empathy-generating experience to view. Joon-Ho is a master of chaos and there are scenes in this film that I believe top any of his other work. The CGI with Okja and the other genetically modified pigs is beautifully done and, as you can imagine, have a huge impact on their surroundings. The CGI design of Okja is rather cute which I believe is another part of the empathy generation tactics this film uses. While we don’t yet have super pigs, the emphasis on animal cruelty that this film portrays is relevant and shocking to watch. There are members of an organization called the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) that attempt to shield Mija from the horrifying acts of animal cruelty that the Mirando Company performs. However, these hard-to-watch moments again give insight into the sheer lack of empathy that exists in animal production corporations. Mija and her Grandfather live off the land in South Korea and there are moments that take place in America where many people are seen eating packaged super pig jerky. Big corporations in America really do not care…about anything… except MONEY, and that is what this movie is screaming into the void in hopes someone somewhere will do something.
The performances in this film elevate the narrative in excellent ways. Seo-hyun Ahn as Mija is the pure definition of the strong female lead. For the bulk of the film, Seo-hyun Ahn speaks in Korean, and when someone hints to Mija that she would benefit from learning some English, she does it without question (and it certainly comes in handy.) Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. Johnny Wilcox is one the craziest forms of Gyllenhaal I have ever seen. While Gyllenhaal pretty much always understands the assignment, he shows a completely unhinged zoologist version of Bill Nye the Science Guy while also doing crazy experiments on the pigs behind the scenes. Dr. Johnny Wilcox is as much a part of the animal cruelty in this film as the CEO of the company, Lucy Mirando played by Tilda Swinton. Tilda Swinton is a film chameleon and the shape she takes in this film is that of a corrupted and eccentric “environmentalist” AND Swinton also portrays Lucy’s twin sister Nancy Mirando, the cruel ex CEO of the Mirando Corporation. Swinton provides excellent performance with a sense of wealthy delusion that is seen in so many CEOs around the country. Notably, the members of ALF include Paul Dano as Jay, Lilly Collins as Red, and Steven Yeun as K who all bring so much interesting energy to this film. This cast has such a heightened level of acting and performing skills and regardless of the CGI, they don’t miss a beat.
The composition of Okja is incredible and even though some of the characters may receive a happy ending, it will open your eyes to the overall loss and tragedy that is corporate America. The overall diversity is really strong as the film represents two different languages and cultures and overall has a relatively diverse cast with strong AAPI representation. The satirical nature of this film is beyond relevant and not talked about enough in film, or really at all. Animal cruelty happens in this country every day on an astronomical scale and if you’re interested in viewing a heartbreaking story that references these horrifying acts, check out Okja, you may just give up eating meat forever.
Movie review by Allie Posner