The heavily satiric movie ‘Okja’ was released a few months on Netflix and aims to tackle the issues within the meat industry. But can the eponymous super-pig have an impact on the way we eat today?
Okja is set in a near-future scenario where a GMO food corporation Mirando (obviously mocking Monsanto) attempts to adopt a revolutionary sustainable marketing strategy by creating a genetically modified super-pig : bigger, fatter, cuter and tastier. At first, the eponymous ‘Okja’ -with a supposedly low carbon footprint- is a huge success for the company as it re-brands its previous dirty name. With the arrival of washed-up celebrity zoologist Dr Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his team, Okja is taken away from her family and thrust back into the hands of her creators, the Mirando meat corporation led by Orwellian nightmare CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) where her unfortunate fate is sealed. Soon, a group of clumsy environmental activists led by Jay (Paul Dano) come to the super-pig’s rescue and expose Mirando for its unethical methods.
« They’ll eat it if it’s cheap, »
Okja is a commited movie in which Okja’s owner, a young South Korean girl named Mija, represents hope. It is her determination and total devotion to save her pig that is at the core of the movie. The director Bong Joon-ho shows the girl as the missing piece of the puzzle in the fight exposing Monsanto and the meat industry.
« They’ll eat it if it’s cheap, » snaps CEO Lucy Mirando in a telling scene after she’s confronted with hesitations about public discomfort surrounding her organization’s meat products.
The film is set in two very different environments and builds a huge contrast between a corporate America and a natural South Korea. The movie starts in Manhattan, the « center of capitalism » according to Bong Joon-ho, where Mirando’s siege is and where the food is produced (super-pig farm).
A big lovely pig with a dark message
Cautionary tales are not new to Bong Joon-ho‘s audiences, who are familiar with his style of weaving hidden messages into the cinematic narrative. The famed South Korean filmmaker is celebrated for combining action and horror genres with dark bite.
In 2014, Bong Joon-ho released a post-apocalyptic thriller Snowpiercer with a strong political meaning, displaying the worst of society’s imbalances on a high-speed dystopian train. Also, it isn’t the first time Bong Joon-ho has an environmental message is his films. His 2006 breakout hit The Host told the story of a fishy creature created after radioactive waste was dumped on a US military base.
Okja’s physical appearance gives a nod to the controversial genetically modified foods (GMO) debate. She is special: a one-nipple, hippo-pig hybrid with some manatee resemblance (since they look « incredibly innocent and kind-hearted », Bong says). « I wanted Okja to be cute. Big yet lovely, shy and introverted. But she is a genetically modified organism and this debate is not restricted to Korea, it is prevalent all over the world, » Bong said.
Is ‘Okja’ meant to be a veggie-embracing movie?
Bong insists Okja isn’t intended to be a fiery screen statement against eating animals.
« In my movie, Mija’s favorite food is chicken stew. I didn’t make this film to oppose meat. Whether one is vegan or not is a matter of individual choice, » Bong explained, adding that he wanted audiences to « witness and understand » how meat was being mass produced.
« We coexist with animals and we should take time to consider their perspective. How we treat them today is a very recent phenomenon and came to be only after we included them in mass production, » he said.
« This is the state of capitalism today and this is what I wanted to convey. »