T: I had initially heard about this film while reading an article about all the upcoming summer Netflix releases and what had initially caught my attention was the divisive opinions about how this film should have been released. Even now, having watched the film, I find myself delving into the differing opinions – and ultimately – into the heart of the matter: small screens vs. big screens and the future of Netflix.
To save you from a tangent, I will instead focus on the heart of this post: Okja. The title character refers to a genetically modified superpig raised in the mountains of South Korea by her beloved friend and caretaker, Mija. First and foremost, this is, most definitely, a movie for animal lovers. Reminiscent of a Miyazaki film, the strangeness of the film readily goes ignored as you cannot help but love the characters – both real and imagined. Mija, though young and small, proves herself to be resourceful, brave, and cunning – essentially she’s the totally badass female character the world needs right now. And some of my favorite moments from the film were merely when Mija and Okja were exploring the vast South Korean wilderness. It was those stunning, yet simple, moments that provided a visually-exploratory experience that kept me captivated during what became the ‘slower’ parts of the movie.
And on the topic of characters, director (Bong Joon-ho) and the entire cast do a masterful job of exploring complex characters that somehow transform from something cartoonish into 3-dimensional. Sure Tilda Swinton is the head of an evil agrochemical company (the fictionalized Mirando company that is eerily reminiscent of the very real Monsanto company) that wants to brutally kill the beloved pets of 14 year old South Korean girls, but there are moments you find yourself pitying her (an uncomfortable experience but a necessary one nonetheless). Jake Gyllenhaal perfectly plays a washed-up, has-been TV personality, but coaxes a fine line between haplessly pathetic and terrifyingly masochistic. And Paul Dano – an indie darling – does an extraordinary job of heading up the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) and gives such a compelling performance that you’re not entirely sure if he is as compassionate as he claims or rather an extremist on the brink of an emotional breakdown.
But this is why we need these films! (I promised I save you from the tangent, but I cannot help myself). Bong Joon-ho (and Netflix) has given the world a film that – though tonally is somewhat irregular and conceptually is somewhat strange – defies our traditional viewing experience. And though I know there will be people who will balk at its strangeness, it is those qualities that I find most compelling. It is the strangeness that allows for the allegorical exploration of a very real, very terrifying topic – genetically modified foods and ethical food consumption. And though the allegory is quite obvious (as most fables are), it is nonetheless both a necessary and satisfying one. Seriously, the last fifteen minutes will have you in a state of existential warfare about your own social, moral, and ethical responsibilities. And in that, the small screen (and in the eyes of millions of Netflix users) is exactly where this film needs to be.
RV: Not to be too repetitive here, but Twizzler and I could not agree more about this movie. It is the definition of how even a flawed movie can still pack an emotional punch that can resonate with you for weeks after your initial viewing. The film has heart, but I could definitely do without some of the more tonally awkward moments of the film. Right after Okja is reunited with Mija, there is a scene where they are being chased and then Okja starts shooting poop at the people chasing them. I expect poop humor in a kids film, but by the third act, no could say this was even close to a kids film. I understand that the director is using childish jokes to set the viewer off guard for some of the later more gruesome scenes (like the rape scene); however, every childish gag in the film still felt incredibly forced. That being said, Okja’s childishness is easy to overlook because of the movie’s excellent ending more than makes up for any of the film’s prior sins. Even a bacon-loving Ron Swanson might evaluate his diet after watching this film’s terrific climax.
4 Twizzlers: This little piggy loved this movie.
4 Red Vines: This film brings home the bacon.