One of the exceptional aspects of Bong Joon-Ho’s latest film Okja is not in how it humanizes a pig, but rather how it makes one reflect on humanity. On the surface, wears the clothes of a traditional child and her pet adventure story. However, underneath there is a fast-paced, and emotionally enriching, tale that confidently takes aim at both the industrialization of processed foods and the complicated nature of social activism.
Unflinching in its social commentary, Okja centers around the relationship between Mija (An Seo-Hyun) and her super pig Okja, a genetically altered creature that looks like a combination of a pig, hippo and elephant. Created by the Mirando Corporation, allegedly through the most humane practices, the company has high hopes that the super pig project will revolutionize the food industry. Spearheaded by Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), a woman who is determined to salvage her father’s company and take it in bold new directions that her sister Nancy (Swinton) could not, the Mirando Corporation has dispersed several super pigs to farmers across globe.
After ten years of being raised abroad, the best pig will be brought back to America for a televised event hosted by famed veterinarian Dr. Johnny (played exaggeratedly by Jake Gyllenhaal). An aspect of the arrangement that Mija’s grandfather, one of the farmers participating in the project, neglected to tell her.
Upon discovering that her beloved Okja has been taken, Mija embarks on a harrowing journey, in which she travels to a new land and has a few run ins with the Animal Liberation Front, an animal rights group led by Jay (Paul Dano), all in an attempt to save her four-legged friend.
While intertwining thrilling action sequences and deep social commentary is nothing new for Bong Joon-ho, there is a sense of childhood wonder, and the shattering of said innocence, that really helps the film to resonate with the viewer. It would have been easy for the director to make a film that simply states that eating meat is bad, but Okja is far more nuanced than that.
The heart and soul of the film is not in the activist who fight for Okja, but rather in the pig herself. Despite being genetically constructed, it is through her experience that the true horrors of corporate greed are displayed. Bong Joon-ho does not let the activists off the hook either. He shows how blind commitment to certain ideals can both compromise a person’s morals and make them just as dangerous as those they claim to be fighting against.
Okja may play like a David versus Goliath children’s adventure, but its themes and genuine emotions speak directly to adults. It is a film one does not easily forget.