Okja (2017)

Director: Joon-ho Bong
Writer: Joon-ho Bong, Jon Ronson
Cast: Seo-Hyun AhnHee-Bong ByunTilda SwintonGiancarlo EspositoJake GyllenhaalShirley HendersonSteven YeunPaul DanoLily CollinsJeong-eun Lee
Seen on: 12.7.2017

Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) lives with her grandfather Hee Bong (Hee-Bong Byun) and with Okja. Okja is a genetically modified breed of superpigs. To see how the animals fare, twelve of them have been placed in various situations worldwide to see what environment suits them best. It turns out that Okja is the winner. That means that they find themselves confronted with nature filmer Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has been sent by the corporation Okja actually belongs to to publicize the result of the contest. But even though Wilcox is not the most charming individual, he quickly becomes the least of Mija’s problems as she has to fight for Okja and their life together.

Okja is sweet and it has a great cast. It has a political message that it puts front and center, but unfortunately that message is muddled at the best of times and incomprehensible at other times. When you make a film that so obviously has something to say, when that something remains that unclear, the entire experience is frustrating and nothing else.

I am still wondering what Okja is trying to say. It obviously has a problem that it wants to make clear, but what exactly is that problem: is it mass animal farming? Genetically modified meat? Or is it eating meat in the first place? Why was it so important that Okja is super intelligent? Does that mean that eating stupid animals is A-Ok?

I also hated the fact that they had Okja raped. When it’s not represented as in this film, breeding on a farm is not rape – that is a false analogy that does nobody any favors. But also in story-world it didn’t make any sense to put Okja through that at this point in the story. Plus, it seemes biologically improbable as well. Would the male just force himself on her like that? Rape is pretty rare in the animal kingdom as far as I know and it wasn’t even mentioned whether Okja was in heat at all. If you want to show cruelty against animals, it’s perfectly possible to do so without resorting to fals rape analogies.

Even though I was mostly confused by what the film was trying to get at and when I wasn’t confused I sometimes couldn’t agree with where it was headed, and even though there was more than one plot and logic hole in the story, the film did manage to grab me. It has interesting and likeable characters and a great cast to play them, Okja is a really cute creature and it was generally put together well, making it emeotionally accessible. So you bet your ass that I shed a tear or two at the end.

But I would have liked it if the film had been less manipulative and more consistent it what it was trying to say. It had all the necessary ingredients to make it work and that it didn’t means that it’s ultimately more frustrating than moving.

Summarizing: It’s good to watch, but I expected more from it.

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