Okja Directed by Bong Joon Ho
Starring Seo-Hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Lily Collins
Published Jun 22, 2017Countless films have come close (including, but not limited to, Food, Inc., Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret and Forks Over Knives), but it took visionary South Korean director Bong Joon Ho to create the first movie that could be considered the cinematic cultural equivalent of the Smiths' Meat is Murder.
This isn't the first time the acclaimed filmmaker has tackled issues related to food scarcity and emerging societal divides (that was 2013's post-apocalyptic, mostly English-language Snowpiercer), but it's certainly the most palatable.
As the human population continues to expand, a team of scientists from the Mirando Corporation are tasked with searching for a sustainable answer. "We needed a miracle," says Tilda Swinton, playing the company's evil CEO in the film's opening scene, "and then we got one."
Introducing the super-pig: a strange creature (supposedly) found in the forests of Peru that tastes "fucking delicious" and is the size of a Subaru. A handful were gifted to farmers all around the world as part of a ten-year competition to see which one would grow up to be the biggest and best of its kind, including Okja: a caring, cuddly creature living in the forests north of Seoul with her best friend, a little girl named Mija (newcomer Seo-Hyun Ahn). Her grandfather promises to buy Okja back from Mirando once the super-pig reaches peak maturity. Instead, as property of the corporation, Okja is taken against her will, and turns out to be part of a massive, decade-long PR move to convince consumers that super-pigs are healthy and GMO-free; in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
As the movie progresses, Okja hits a lot of familiar stylistic notes, giving it the feel of a pet rescue film, heist movie (especially once Paul Dano's character and his team, the Animal Liberation Front, are introduced) and campy children's comedy (Jake Gyllenhaal delivers one of the most over-the-top, hammy performances of his career as TV animal show host-turned-villain Dr. Johnny Wilcox, to exquisite results), yet feels distinctly from the mind of the Asian auteur.
But it's the final 20 minutes or so that matter most, an emotional visit to a slaughterhouse that's sure to strike a nerve, even though the film's main character is CGI and the story is all fiction. (The director and co-writer Jon Ronson, a devout vegetarian, visited a real life meat factory as part of their initial research; Joon Ho says he went vegan because of it shortly thereafter.) It's a sequence of scenes that are far from subtle, but maybe that's what the world's meat eaters really need to see.