Absurdity and the Beast: Our Review of ‘Okja’

Posted in Movies, Netflix, Theatrical, What's Streaming? by - June 28, 2017
Absurdity and the Beast: Our Review of ‘Okja’

However outrageous and outlandish, and regardless of the genres traversed and blended in the stories told by director Bong Joon-ho, the masterful Korean filmmaker always seems in control. His latest, the wildly entertaining and deeply satirical Okja, opens in unnerving and bewildering fashion – and the rest of the film follows similarly.

Like his previous feature Snowpiercer, Okja features an evil and madness that isn’t necessarily as easily digested as in most films. His villains aren’t solitary figures looking to take over the world, destroy a population, or gain excess wealth (well, maybe that last one) – but instead are bigger, more discomforting visions of how the society does and could work as influenced by politics and capitalism.

Okja opens with an exuberant speech by a CEO of a major farming corporation. Played by Tilda Swinton, this character orates an exactingly-written speech with fervor, mania, and unbridled optimism. She is Lucy Mirando, and her company has obtained a dozen pigs that will be raised around the world to grow up as behemoth sized suppliers of meat to consume. And money will flow in.

In the way to a financial windfall is Mija, a Korean girl who alongside her grandfather, has raised one of this pigs: Okja. The two have formed a special bond, as kids do with animals, and when Mirando comes some ten years after the announcement to retrieve her prized pig, problems arise.

That’s because Mirando isn’t as honest as she seems. The metaphors and allegories in this film aren’t subtle, but they don’t need to be. Bong Joon-ho has a lot of says about industry, elitism, and the environment, and the various commentaries come irregularity, bluntly, and messily.

Still,  this is not just a political drama. This is an absurd comedy, and not only with the character of Mirando. She enlists a ridiculous ‘TV Animal Doctor’ to judge a pig competition, and this lampooning of such medical celebrities we embrace in American culture is sent up brilliantly by Jake Gyllenhaal. 

All of that allows Okja to go quite dark and disturbing in the finale. It’s as if the film is set up to lull you into a vulnerable, emphatic space. That’s because there is plenty of heart. Mija and Okja often find themselves in precarious situations, and it helps that both of them – even Okja who more resembles a hippo than a pig – are instantly precocious and winning. So as the threats become more real and palpable you’re suddenly snapped back into reality from a movie that was so mesmerizing and shambolic.

Even as Okja runs all over the place, with tones and messages and characters and emotions that often push against and sometimes undercut one another, the film is utterly compelling. Made with a huge budget, and released (almost) exclusively on Netflix, Okja is a worthy entry into Bong Joon-ho’s great and growing canon, and a chilling commentary on the way in which our society treats animals.

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Anthony is a lover of a good story in any form, on any subject. Tirelessly navigating filmdom, he is equal parts an unbridled idealist and stubborn curmudgeon, trying to strike a balance between head and heart when it comes to pop culture. He pens stories about television, music, the environment, lifestyles, and all things noteworthy and peculiar.