Okja review: Emotional and politically compelling
It grows on you with some wonderful unexpected moments
Friday 30 June 2017
Bong Joon Ho
Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-hyeon Ahn, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins
If Okja (currently streaming on Netflix) were an Indian film, in all possibility our government might use it as an excuse to implement the meat ban in the country. Known for his cautionary tales with very strong environmental messages, Bong Joon Ho's Okja is not a statement against meat eaters.
All it does is, in a hard-hitting and emotionally-stirring way; make audiences witness mass production of meat in graphic detail, only to make us empathize and realize how conveniently we separate our views about our pets and those animals we eat.
In yet another satirical but moving commentary, on the lines of his 2006 breakout hit film The Host and his last outing Snowpiercer, Joon Ho's Okja isn't just a sappy family drama about a young girl and her mutant pig. It raises important questions about corporate greed, genetically modified food, and the socio-political stance Ho takes is truly groundbreaking. It's part adventurous, part fun but a hardcore animal activism movie. If Peta had produced this film, it would have been a movement.
The first 10-15 minutes of Okja, which explores the bond between the young girl Mija and her pet pig Okja, is heartwarming and absolutely fun. We see Mija and Okja bond in the mountains and it's easily the film's best moments. They catch fish, pick fruits and nap together. It's almost impossible to accept Okja is an animal, thanks to the way Ho portrays the bond she shares with Mija. The bond between them is so real; it's amazing how Ho succeeded in making Seo-hyeon Ahn (Mija) act with an imaginary creature, created with the aid of visual effects.
Okja, often allegorical, looks at how we treat animals and even human beings, in the midst of ever growing multinational corporations and their greed for profits. Thankfully, it doesn't preach and definitely doesn't make non-vegetarians feel guilty. As a matter of fact, Mija is a non-vegetarian, and she loves chicken stew but she still cares for Okja and goes the distance to save her. The last 20 minutes of the film, easily the toughest part to sit through, is haunting as it gets into a very dark territory, almost making us squirm in our seats. But what's fascinating is that you wouldn't have expected a pig to leave you teary-eyed and emotional.
The actors are all terrific, especially Seo-hyeon Ahn in her film debut. By keeping the emotional quotient grounded throughout the film, she provides the most resonating moments. However, Jake Gyllenhaal, who goes all out insane, may not resonate with everyone even while I liked his lunacy. Tilda Swinton, too, isn't in her best self but she nails the slightly outlandish role.
Despite the familiarity of the story, Okja grows on you with some wonderful unexpected moments. If art can truly change the world, I truly believe Okja can create a movement and let's wish it does, at least by a small margin.
Okja review: 4 Stars