Movie Review: “Okja”

This is meant to be a review of Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja,” a movie which launched today on Netflix. I don’t think it’s going to be a traditional review, but it’ll be something close to it. The film, “Okja,” stars An Seo Hyun as Mija, a young woman who has been caring for a “super pig” for years. The pig is a part of a contest organized by Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) and the corporation which has been run by her family for generations.

“Okja” is incredibly funny and terribly serious. It is both lighthearted and awfully dark. It is a movie worth watching both for the incredible performances as well as the touching story.

More than that though, this is a movie with a message. Or perhaps a series of them. One of these is that we need to be quite skeptical of the intention of others. We need to make sure that they are who they say they are and are going to do what they say they’re going to do. Mija is betrayed by so many people in the film – a corporation, animal activists, her grandfather. She is also not the only person betrayed by someone else, it happens repeatedly in the film.

How much of “Okja” is a fantasy—Swinton’s character, as well as those played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano are certainly larger-than-life caricatures—and how much are we to understand it as what we could be; what we very nearly are? The film itself most definitely does not take place in our world. Oh, it’s a close facsimile, with institutions and attitudes that we would all recognize, but it is a fantasy world with things both far better and far worse than we have in this world.

This is the question I keep coming back to – what is the film saying about our world?  Sure, we don’t have extra-large mutant super pigs that have the potential to end world hunger and don’t have to worry about that specifically, but we do have people out there looking for ways to increase the yield from crops (and animals).

The skepticism the film would impart about the world is clear and “Okja” very much feels like a movie pushing an agenda, pushing us to think differently about the world in which we live and the way we interact with others.

One of the movie’s great strengths is that while it is pushing an agenda, it doesn’t feel, well, pushy about it. “Okja” definitely has something to see about the food chain and the way corporations act and how we all exist in relation to one another, but it doesn’t feel overly moralistic. By creating this so-close-to-our-world-but-not-our-world fantasy, the critiques are easier ones to digest. After all, we don’t have to worry about how a nefarious corporation would manipulate humanity through a decade long contest in order to pump their own bottom line. Right?

Well… maybe we do. Maybe we ought to be more concerned about both idealistic crusaders who would stop corporate evil (is their motive purely altruistic?) as well as the corporations who would do evil. Maybe we do need to consider where our food comes from on a more regular basis. Maybe we do need to pause when any CEO steps up to a microphone, purportedly for our benefit, and examine their motivations.

Bong Joon Ho’s film makes us all pause and wonder and question and it does this wrapped up in an incredible fantasy with some wonderfully memorable performances and a CG super pig everyone will love.

It’s out now on Netflix for you to watch. Watch it. After all, Netflix has made it so easy for us to just sit there at home and watch something brand new.


photo credit: Netflix

Categories: review

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