Okja swings a south-paw jab at the immoral industrial food complex in the United States. It’s about a gentle giant and the girl who raised her when they are caught in the crossfire between corporate greed and animal activism. Okja is a simple story on how the industrial food complex is negligible of animal lives for a shallow goal of producing a profit. Okja is further complicated by its commentary on animal activists and their miscalculated execution of liberating animal lives. After watching this film I was left with the thought that even as an American it’s hard to justify our shameless food manufacturing methods and that I may want to try being a vegetarian.
In honor of Parasite’s historic Oscar win, T.H.C. is dedicating the month of February to the films of Bong Joon Ho.
Okja was released in 2017 as a Netflix Original Film. It is written and directed by Bong Joon Ho. The film stars Seo-hyun Ahn as Mija, the young girl who raises Okja, the genetically modified super pig.
Paul Dano and Steven Yeun co-star as the leaders of an animal activist organization with good intentions that have moral repercussions. Tilda Swindon and Jake Gyllenhall co-star as a business mogul and a scientific engineer that is at the forefront of Mirando Corp., a corporation responsible for the creation of manufacturing and selling of the super pigs. Choi Woo-Shik of Parasite makes an enjoyable cameo as a truck driver.
(Left to Right) Okja and Mija enjoy one another company at home.
“Okja” uses parable commentary to pull the curtain on the industrial food complex in the United States in its use of three parallel story arcs. The first arc is the story of Mija and Okja. Mija is a South-Korean mountain girl who is Okja’s caretaker and best friend. Mija’s love for her best friend is reminiscent of ''Old Yeller '', the classic child and pet relationship. Similar to Old yeller, “Okja” drives it’s plot forward by separating the main characters and forcing them to overcome great obstacles in order to be reunited. Two parallel story arcs create high stakes for Mija and Okja. These parallel stories are an animal activist organization (Animal Liberation Front) and corporate moguls (Mirando Corp.). The pair of arcs and the characters that inhabit them hold idiosyncratic and conflicting reasons for why they want to take Okja from Mija and their home.
(Left to right) K (Steven Yeun) and Jay (Paul Dano) Rescue Okja and Mija from Mirando.
The vision of the Animal Liberation Front is to use Okja as a symbol for animal rights and to expose Mirando as an evil corporation. While they have good intentions the group's actions create an oxymoronic situation when they betray Mija and separate her from Okja. The animal liberators feign righteous personas that in turn, cause them to overlook their core values and the contrasting message they send in detaining Okja. In doing so, the A.F.L separates Okja from the relationships that matter and end up doing more harm than good. Without spoiling anything, the A.F.L. ultimately get their symbolic message out to the public but at a contentious cost.
(above) Next to Okja is Jake Gyllenhall as the quirky Mirando spokesperson and zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox.
Nancy Mirando (Tilda Swindon) makes a speech at the super pig parade.
The goal of the Mirando Corporation is cliche yet profound. Mirando Corp. is a total miser in their views towards animal lives. To them, Okja is nothing more than a piece of meat. The theme of the film revolves around the discussion of the immoral industrial food complex that is shown in Mirando Corps. interactions with Okja. Whether it be their trap door marketing scheme of reuniting Mija and Okja her at the parade, their transportation of Okja in a steel container, the concentration camp of super pigs, or when Mirando Corp. graphically rapes Okja in an underground lab. It is clear Mirando holds no sentimental value towards the animal's lives they take or to the human lives they affect. They only care about the check that is cut. The idea of evil big business is cliched yet profound. This pays homage to Charles Dickens and his 1843 “A Christmas Carol” but in the case of Okja, it does not end with a change of hearts. Mirando Corporation is selfish to the end. Similar to the A.F.L. they choose to separate Okja from the relationship that matters to her in order for their morally jaded goals to come to fruition. In moments of high stakes, Okja and Mija never fail to show bravery and cathartic affection for their bond of friendship. All the film's many threads ultimately come back to questions of morality: what it means to follow your moral compass or betray your instincts, and whether there are circumstances where betrayal is necessary, and whether the trust between human and human is more meaningful than the trust between human and animal. Mija would tell you there's no difference.
Quotes + Stills:
We needed a miracle. And then we got one. Say hello to a super piglet. - Lucy Mirando
K: You're a fucking psychopath.
Jay: You should be ashamed of yourself.
Nancy Mirando: Fuck off! We're extremely proud of our achievements. We're very hardworking business-people. We do deals, and these are the deals we do. This is the tenderloin for sophisticated restaurants. The Mexicans love the feet. I know. Go figure! We all love the face and the anus, as American as apple pie! Hot dogs. It's all edible. All edible, except the squeal.
In 2007, self-styled 'environmentalist' Lucy Mirando becomes CEO of the Mirando Corporation, succeeding her twin sister Nancy. She announces that they have been breeding a special kind of “super pig”. The twenty-six produced specimens are sent to farmers in different locations around the world, and ten years later, one of them will be crowned the winner of a competition to breed the best pig.
In 2017, a young girl named Mija lives in South Korea with her grandfather and their super pig, Okja. They are visited by Mirando spokesperson and zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox, who declares Okja the best super pig and announces they will take her to New York City. Mija's grandfather presents her with a gold pig and explains to her that he saved up money to buy the solid gold item to replace Okja when she was taken away. Devastated, Mija runs away to Seoul to find Okja, where she sees her as she is being loaded onto a truck. Mija chases down the truck but it is intercepted by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).