Pigs aren’t really the cutest of animals – maybe apart from the Bahama’s swimming pigs.
Nonetheless, Netflix’s “Okja” possess the power to turn that “stereotype”. It is extremely emotional, artistic and strangely beautiful, but most of all, it’s an important voice that takes pieces from both sides of a certain conflict.
Mirando Corporation, a multinational consortium led by fearsome Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), comes up with a genetic mutation of a pig. The genetically modified animals are supposed to be the answer to rising hunger – their meat is both delicious and cheap. To promote the product, a few of those pigs are sent to farmers all over the world. One of these special pigs – Okja – is a property of a Korean farmer, but most importantly – a friend of a young girl named Mi-ja (Seo-hyeon Ahn). When Okja is brought to NY, Mi-ja, supported by Animal Liberation Front, fights for her pig’s life.
The Korean director Joon-ho Bong had quite a rough patch with his last film. Although I personally loved “Snowpiercer”, finding it one of the most criminally underappreciated masterpieces of modern cinema, it changed the winds for the director. However, God bless Netflix for giving Bong a shot with “Okja”. The Korean filmmaker used the strange factor from his immensely successful “The Host” from 2006 and with the narrative rhythm kept from “Snowpiercer”, he crafted a masterpiece. A much more prominent and debate-stirring than majority of what 2017 has to offer.
The magic is hidden in the way Bong conducts the argument whether the primal need of humans to eat meat should be eradicated or not. The director only theoretically takes a side. He criticizes the corporate, money-wise approach of Lucy Mirando, giving the ALF a sticker “a bunch of loony good guys”. Yet, nothing is black or white. The more the characters are exposed, the more polarizing the audience shall become. On one hand, it is impossible to turn seven billion people full veggie – and definitely not by brushing up against terrorism, as ALF tends to do. On the other, breeding animals solely with a purpose to kill them in an absolutely barbaric way is also contemptible.
Such a debate has been waged for ages now. Instagram photos of PETA’s members smeared in blood are funny to one and shocking to other. This discussion is probably a never-ending story, but Bong obviously knows it. He is not trying to solve the problem that haunts hundreds of millions. Instead, his main focus lies on this one piglet and this one girl, whose mutual bond is a tear-jerker. The filmmaker makes it clear that in every big picture, there is also a tiny one, filled with emotions so powerful to move rocks. Hence, the real criticism is directed at the social media machines, marketing and corporate dishonesty. The director is clear about it – the real problem is how we approach such the problem. Without compassion, without empathy, but only with the target in front – both sides are ready to come hell or high water.
Setting apart the plot and the meaning of the film, “Okja” is a lovely spectacle by all means. I have fallen in love with the Balkan music playing in a beautifully-shot pursuit, as well as this nostalgic “children innocence story” captured by Mi-ja’s desperate attempts to free Okja. There is a lot of innovative, creative thinking in “Okja”, which definitely proves Bong had a free hand to do whatever he wanted to. Thanks to that, his strange fairytale offers also a plethora of sharply written and phenomenally acted characters too.
Both sides of the dispute consist of towering performances. Corporate machine is embodied by Tilda Swinton, whilst Giancarlo Esposito (who almost reprises Gus Fring with his cold attitude) and Jake Gyllenhaal (having a lot of fun with an over-the-top tv star) are sweet additions to the devil’s squad. On the other hand, there is mainly AFL’s leader, played by Paul Dano, who once again cemented my opinion that he is one of the best actors in Hollywood. And of course, the sweet-and-charming Okja, a product of incredibly detailed CGI.
Eventually, “Okja” works on many levels – as a very moving drama, as an engaging action film, as a strange, visionary fairytale. I do not predict many people will find “Okja” as one of the best films that 2017 has offered so far, but here is a thing – it is. Because not many films leave with the feeling that you might not eat that scrumptious bacon in the morning. And, you might survive without it.
Dir. Joon-ho Bong
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Seo-hyeon Ahn
Hate Grade: 2.5/10