Okja  (2017)

Twice in a row I've looked at movies with vegetarianism as a main theme. "Raw" didn't really make a point to say "everyone should be vegetarian", but Okja is much more blunt with their message. The Netflix original stars Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and Steven Yeun; I like all of those actors, and I really liked director Joon-ho Bong's "Snowpiercer". I had high hopes going in, but nothing really worked for me.

We start ten years in the past, with the announcement of a new type of animal, a "superpig" that will become the world's best source of food. The Mirando company sends superpiglets to farmers all across the world, I guess to see which environment they thrive in? Representatives from the company inspect each animal, and the best of the breed was raised by an old man in South Korea and his granddaughter. Okja the superpig is chosen to fly from Korea to New York City to be part of a celebration an unveiling of the animal to the public.

The Animal Liberation Front (which is a real-life militant wing of PETA) attempts to rescue Okja. It's revealed that the ALF planned to let Okja be retaken by Mirando, but only after they were able to plant a recording device that they hope will show the brutality treatment the animals receive. The Korean granddaughter, Mija, is relentless in her attempts to stay with Okja, and even as she is manipulated by both ALF and Mirando, she keeps her love for her pet.

I have two main issues with this movie: one comes from the philosophical stand it makes about vegetarianism and GMOs; the other comes from the writing and acting itself.

I have a fluctuating view of Tilda Swinton. She's a great actress, she's just visually interesting, but she also likes to embrace roles that seem quirky just for the sake of quirkiness. She walks the line of charming and annoying, and this time falls on the side of annoying. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favorite actors, but wow was he terrible in this. His role of a TV zoologist who uses a zany persona to mask his inner depression could have been strong, but he takes it so far over the top, with a goofy mustache and high socks with short shorts and an awful squeaky voice...it's just bad on top of bad on top of worse. Paul Dano was fine, Steven Yeun was fine, Seo-Hyun Ahn was fine. There were odd attempts at humor that all felt misfired, too.

I love meat. I know that cows and chickens and pigs don't live the best life, but...I don't really care. I know that vegetarians and vegans like to ask "well, where do you draw the line between eating a cow and eating a cat?" and my answer is always "right there, that's the line, it's right between cow and cat."  I get that it's a cultural thing, but livestock is just that - livestock. Pets are pets, not food. I understand that farm kids might have trouble as they grow up, developing bonds with animals only for Pops to say it's time. The farm where Okja is raised seems odd, because it looks like Okja is the only animal there. It's obvious that a girl introduced to an animal when she's four years old would develop such a strong bond over a ten year span, but there's still an element of having to explain to a child that the animal isn't a pet. Remind her, don't let her love the creature, remind her again, keep reminding her. This is a failure on the part of the grandfather, not anyone else.

All that said, I do agree that cramming animals shoulder-to-shoulder, keeping them in filthy conditions, over-breeding them...these are all problems. GMOs are a problem; I don't want to eat food pumped full of chemicals. Still, Okja is so heavy-handed with this stance, it just becomes eye-rolling and makes me want to go eat a bacon cheeseburger.

 [Celluloid Hero] gives "Okja" a 3 out of 10.




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