Don’t be deceived by the giant anthropomorphic pig: this film has a full agenda and demands your attention. Director Bong Joon Ho’s latest feature is a powerhouse in every sense of the word. Okja manages to speak to a wide variety of people: there’s incredible CGI for the big-budget action fans, a compelling and exciting heroine for those looking for the latest adventure, fantastic performances for drama enthusiasts, satire for a little dark humour, and a provocative political statement for those who feel that art should have a real-world impact. To put it simply, Okja has a lot to say and says it well.
From the moment the movie begins, a clear picture of two opposing worlds is painted. We’re first introduced to Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), head of the Mirando corporation, as she unveils the company’s latest project: producing genetically modified “eco-friendly” pigs as part of an effort to end world hunger. Dr Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), the wacky yet beloved TV-zoologist, is set to head their bizarre, Willy Wonka-esque marketing campaign, which involves sending 26 piglets around the world to be raised by indigenous farmers for ten years in preparation for the “Best Pig Competition”. Flash forward ten years and we see Okja, now a fully grown and thriving pig frolicking in the mountains of South Korea with her human companion, Mija (An Seo Hyun). Okja demonstrates the ability to communicate with Mija, feel deep emotions, as well as make self-sacrificing decisions for her friend, which is why it is so unbearable when the Mirando company comes to collect her. With blind determination, our young heroine sets out to bring her friend home. Along the way, the Animal Liberation Front, an aggressive animal rights organisation, gets involved and uses Okja as a means to infiltrate the Mirando company and expose the dark truth about what’s really going on in their labs. Once it becomes clear that Mirando’s only concern has always been and always will be the bottom line, Okja’s fate and the fates of countless other pigs hinge on nothing more than dollars and cents.
There is a campiness to the Mirando corporation that makes both Swinton’s and Gyllenhaal’s characters over the top in their grotesqueness and humorousness. It’s funny how disturbing it is. When those performances appear alongside the naive courageousness of An’s Mija, we get a meeting of two worlds. Her innocence and sincerity makes the satire palatable. This film is obviously a commentary on the meat industry but more so it seems to be a commentary on capitalism itself. And it begs the audience, are we any better than the Mirnado corporation if we buy into this system that we know is doing horrible things? Okja questions our humanity.
The ending is both satisfying and not. A small part of us wishes for there to be a happy ending so that we can wash our hands clean of it and move on. But the greater part appreciates the realism of it, the acknowledgement that so long as there are consumers to pay into the system, the system will prevail, regardless of humanity. It’s the brilliant juxtapositions in this film that make it so remarkable and impassioning. From a main standpoint, there is an obvious moral code, but in a capitalist world, there is no clear right or wrong.
Okja is released nationwide on 28th June 2017.
Watch the trailer for Okja here: