Film Review By Azzurra Catucci RNN Associate Producer
For quite some time, Netflix has been releasing socially relevant feature documentaries, many of which receive notoriety and press, hailing them for their positive, informative social message. It comes as no surprise that documentaries, being entertaining and educational media, are considered to be some of the most powerful and influential art forms of current society. From Super Size Me to Chasing Ice, dozens of documentary motion pictures cover topics related to sustainability and personal health, and a few have even exposed the questionable practices of big business and some of the world’s most trusted franchises. But, documentary, while powerful, is not the only form of media that can inspire a change. A dark horse instant classic, Okja (2017, directed by Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer) and starring Seo-Hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, was recently released on Netflix and has since has reignited quite a bit of social activism. What makes it different? It’s a narrative! Okja tells the tale of a young South Korean girl, Mija, who was raised on a farm with her grandpa and a pet “super pig,” Okja. Super pigs were created by a so-called, “sustainable” company, Mirando (sound familiar?), and sent across the world to be raised. Ten years later, they are to be tested and assessed to discover which super pig is the best of the best, and that pig will then be used for pork. Without spoiling the entire plot, things take a turn for the worse when Okja is taken back by Mirando, which turns out to be a company driven by greed and indifference, but Mija will stop at nothing to get back her beloved pig.
Okja is a tale of relationships, love and greed, reminiscent of E.T. The Extraterrestrial and The Iron Giant, so you can expect tears. No stranger to directing social-
commentary/dystopian films, Joon-Ho is phenomenal at evoking emotion and personal connection from a viewer. The entire cast is superb, and Swinton beautifully portrays her disgustingly corporate-minded character, Lucy, the CEO of Mirando. Okja has been receiving enormous praise from audiences and critics alike, and many have expressed on various forms of social media that it has inspired them to attempt vegetarianism. A movie about a fictional girl and her pig is influencing social and personal change. Joseph Lamour (@lamour) tweeted “How is this fictional animal the one that’s making me reconsider being a meat eater. #okja.” Megan Rumery (@meganrumery) tweeted, “The movie Okja is seriously making me consider going vegan.” In Los Angeles, Okja was projected on 35mm film at the landmark New Beverly Cinema, after which, the cinema began incorporating vegan hot dogs into their menu, which they have said they will keep “as long people keep eating them!” The responses to this motion picture have entirely surpassed expectations.
This is not the first time that the topic of animal rights in the meat industry has been showcased, so what exactly makes Okja more compelling than factual documentaries or articles? It seems that the answer is pathos. It appeals to human emotion and allows its viewer to become engrossed and personally connected to its characters. Suddenly, the issue of animal cruelty is not a distant reality far from a consumer- now, it’s personal. The topic of animal cruelty is often difficult to confront or discuss; sometimes it is not taken seriously whatsoever, made fun of, even. Widely considered a trivial cause, many prefer convenience and saved money over having their conscience disturbed or spending a few extra dollars on more wholesome foods. This is the reality of our society. To most vegetarians/vegans, eating meat or dairy again seems unfathomable and selfish. To most meat-eaters, not eating meat or dairy seems stupid and pretentious. A lot of judgement can occur between humans based on dietary choices, but the factory depicted in Okja is far from fictional. Animals are in fact forcibly bred for the sole purpose of being slaughtered and eaten by humans; for companies to make a profit. The majority of humans incorporate meat into their daily diet, sometimes in every meal. Okja ventures into dangerous territory when it depicts the horrors that occur in factory farms, and does not shy away from unveiling cold hard truth (and not-so-subtly eluding to a real agricultural biotechnology company, Monsanto). If these nightmares actually occur in the real world, isn’t it every meat-eater and consumer’s responsibility to be informed, and even help fight them?
The facts of factory farms and the meat industry are not up for debate- they have been around for years and there is no denying the cruelty inflicted upon animals and the vile conditions they live in. Many meat eaters shy away from informative, expository videos or shows, living in blissful ignorance of what they are funding each time they buy a pound of ham at the store. Okja is a unifying piece of art that can open the minds of those that may not already be informed when it comes to the meat industry, while touching the hearts of anyone watching, of any belief system.
Aside from being a heartwarming and entertaining motion picture (and sure to be one of the best of the year), Okja also serves to ignite activism and social responsibility in audiences. Just as the New Beverly Cinema has begun including vegan options in their food, and many viewers have thought about going vegan or vegetarian, who knows how many actions Okja has inspired that have not been documented. Not only does it critique the food industry as a whole, but it touches on the idea of corporate fraud (claiming to be conscious and sustainable just to appear that way and make money). All of these topics are things that deserve further exploration by any consumer of the meat, fish or dairy industry, and/or anyone dedicated to wholesome brands. Companies must be held accountable, and as they are driven by funding from consumers, consumers actually carry the most power! If one realizes that their favorite brand may not be so nice underneath it all, stop buying from them. If everyone did this, think of the change that could be made. Demand humane, natural treatment. Demand that your food be chemical-free, fresh and naturally raised. It is not just about the animal, but it is about the health of humans across the glove, and the health of the planet itself. If humans can learn to think beyond immediate self-gratification and care just for their immediate needs, and instead begin to care for the overall needs of humanity as a whole and the planet, so many world issues could be turned around.
While movie preferences change person to person, it can be agreed upon that any movie that features astounding entertainment value, sincere relatability and the ability to provoke contemplation of one’s personal decisions is undoubtedly an achievement.