A 2017 Netflix film, Okja, not only revolves around corporate greed but also quite loudly professes animal love and demands for their equal rights, such as consent, even if they can not speak but have a family who can do so. The film deals with a variety of issues, ranging from humanitarian to environmental to gluttony. However, one factor that remains a constant throughout the film is the love Mija and Okja have, despite the struggles they face.
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Producer: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Lewis Taewan Kim, Dooho Choi, Seo Woo-sik, Bong Joon-ho, Ted Sarandos
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Ahn Seo-hyun, Byun Hee-bong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Jake Gyllenhaal
Release Date: June 28th, 2017 (worldwide)
Revenue: 2 million USD (worldwide)
Directed by Bong Joon Ho whose method of storytelling and whirl of fantasies have sparked comparisons with Spielberg, has succeeded in delivering a variety of messages through this relationship, which might seem superficial to many. The official trailer of the film opens with a lush green mountain by the side of a waterfall, where Okja, the super pig, and Mija, a young South Korean girl, can be seen living a peaceful life, indicating how domestic their life is, as they both not only know the ins and outs of the forest but of each other too. The voiceover, however, takes a dramatic turn as the scenes lap over each other, highlighting animal rearing in the livestock industry to lessen the footprint on the environment, consume less feed and produce even fewer excretions, calling this genetically mutated pig a “miracle”.
Watch the trailer here :
The film opens in 2007, with the CEO of Mirando Corporation, Lucy Mirando, played by Tilda Swinton, who seems to care a lot about humanity and the environment. She introduces forth an eco-friendly, natural, and non-genetically mutated idea to the world to battle the food crisis in the world. In about ten years, she promises to crown one of the twenty-six said piglets in a super pig breeding competition, in hopes to find that one meat that would taste better than any others. Several piglets are given to animal agriculturists across the world, to grow them in the most habitable conditions possible and maybe find what kind of environment these genetically mutated animals flourish in the best. The chilling personality of Lucy runs a shiver down the spine, with maybe a chant of ‘psychopath’ in the back of the head. The urge to find more about this character surfaces as the scene abruptly cuts and changes to an entirely different one, in a secluded mountain.
The film jumps to 2017, where we are introduced to Mija, played by An Seo Hyun, a young orphan in South Korean, living with her grandfather in the middle of the mountains with Okja, one of the Mirando piglets who has grown beautifully over the years. A tight-knit friendship can be seen from the start as they both understand each other, play, and talk like they have been friends for years, which is actually true as Mija has known Okja since she was four. Okja, in one instance, does not even hesitate to endanger her life to save Mija’s which further shows how maybe the animal shows more humanity in the movie than the entirety of the money and blood-thirsty corporate word. However, their lives change as Mija meets Dr. Johnny Wilcox, a mad zoologist played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who struggles with keeping his personality in check. Dr. Wilcox, fascinated by Okja, just another pig he knows by numbers and graphs, crowns her the “super pig” and decides to take her to New York. Mija, though emotionally the closest to Okja, can not do anything since the pig is actually the corporation’s property and they have full rights over her. In hopes of consoling her, her grandfather gives her a golden pig, since he couldn’t really do anything to help her much but wants to be a good guardian for her.
According to Korean folklore, the golden pig symbolizes a healthy and prosperous life, something every family wishes upon their children. However, heartbroken after knowing that it is in exchange for her beloved friend, Mija storms out of the house, deciding to leave for Seoul immediately, hoping this intervention would get Okja back to the mountains with her. Over a turn of events, she however only manages to hang by the handles of the back doors of the truck, before it is intercepted by ALF, Animal Liberation Front, and she is thrown far away. A heartfelt reunion is cut short as they both try their best to escape from both the authorities and the ‘unknown’ interceptor, who till now has been helping them. The scene then changes to Okja and Mija running across the biggest metropolitan city in the country, in an attempt to escape without a trace. However, due to their size and the commotion caused, it is physically impossible to not see a pig as big as a hippopotamus running around amongst the crowd. As they trip over nothing and everything, both Mija and Okja are badly wounded, while one of the masked men approaches Mija to help her up, she sees the other gently removing a big shard of metal from Okja’s feet, as she lies down bleeding and crying. This scene touches her because, despite the ongoing chaos, she could see empathy in the eyes of the masked men, ironic to those who have their faces out for everyone and are trying to hurt them. The other members of ALF also join in, countering the attacks of poisoned darts with colorful umbrellas, apologizing for hitting them or even hitting them at non-lethal places. The tousle seems to come to an end as they make a run for it when ALF’s vehicle is in sight and they make a run for it. This scene in the movie is not only the most-watched part of the film but also a fan favorite. The attempt to rescue an animal from greedy capitalists and fight them off without violence also highlights one of the other key features of the ALF apart from their vow for animal protection and conservation.
ALF, under Jay, played by Paul Dano, is a firm believer in animal rights and their protection. He sets an example as he fights for Okja’s choice to either participate in the mission which can put her life in danger or go back home, despite the backlash from the members. He prioritizes Mija’s opinion on whatever she wants for Okja, who is her family, however, due to the language barrier, one of the other members of ALF, K knowingly lies about her agreement with the mission since he did not want to risk not completing it after coming so close. After planting a recording device in Okja’s ears, ALF promise Mija to rescue Okja and get her back to their home in the mountains and vanish, leaving the girl to fend for herself and her poor mute animal.
The clip of Okja’s retrieval has made headlines in world news, so much that Mirando corporation faces huge backlash from all over the world, which infuriates Lucy since it washes all her efforts to better the company’s reputation after what her father and sister did. She hatches a plan of a teary reunion of Okja and Mija in front of the whole world during the super pig competition to garner some good press. On the other hand, upon entering the research laboratory in Paramus, New Jersey, Okja has to undergo a forcible mating with another super pig and her meat is taste-tested. This footage is acquired by ALF, who realize the lies K had fed them and kick him out. Disgusted by this, they themselves can not stand this atrocity, let alone take the responsibility for what happened with Okja when they confront Mija in the future. However, when Mija arrives in NYC, Jay quickly meets her in secret and apologizes for everything, before asking her to take Okja and leave as soon as they expose the company in front of the world. This was an attempt from Jay to save her the heartbreak of knowing what Okja had to go through while she was in the lab.
During the parade, however, Okja, blinded because of the experiments attacks Mija who has to calm her down by whispering something that only they both recognize. Together they try to make a run for it but are caught by Black Chalk, a private security company, who takes Okja away. K reunites with Mija and Okja, and breaks into the laboratory to rescue Okja, however, what we see on the screen might be the most horrifying scenes in the whole movie. Featuring pigs bred with the sole purpose of killing and selling their meat, this movie has brought to light the issues around Animal Agriculture, gaining criticism from everyone. An array of slaughtered animals, gruesome deaths of the pigs, the dismemberment of their body is vividly shown, something that fills Mija’s and the audiences’ hearts with fear. She, however, succeeds in bargaining for Okja’s life in exchange for the golden pig her grandfather had gifted her, Nancy only agreeing to spare the life of the animal upon striking herself a good business deal., showing how far she is from humanity and how this greed and hunger is what is in the real world, away from the bubbly life in the mountains. While leaving the lab, one of the other pigs pushes out their piglet to save them from meeting the same fate as thousand others. Mija knows she can not save all of them; however, she still stays quiet as tears run down her eyes, hearing the squeals of the animals who know what awaits their fate.
Mija and Okja return back to their normal lives with the piglet, in the mountains, living with the grandfather, away from the money-hungry capitalist corporate world which has scarred the family enough for a lifetime. As the screen turns black, we also see the ALF undertaking another mission to attack Mirando and continue with their propaganda.
The movie, though made only 2 million USD worldwide, despite its stellar cast and performances, carries an important message whose value lies beyond its financial success or failure. The movie ends at the same place it started with, doing the same chores as they did at the start of the film, Bong Joon Ho’s attempt to show how deeply the characters have changed despite living the same as they always did. It criticizes capitalism by showing how profit-driven actions cause large-scale suffering for animals and deceive common people.
– Diksha Rawat