Films That Made Us Happy in 2017: Okja

Do you like watching movies? Do you have Netflix? If you answered yes to both of these questions then you have no excuses for not watching the Netflix original movie, Okja. Now, you may be asking, who or what is Okja? Okja is a fictional super pig and by the time you finish watching this movie, you’ll fall in love with her just as such as I did. I’ll admit, I was terrified of the super pig when I first watched the trailer. But it was getting so many good reviews after premiering at the Cannes Festival last summer that I had to face my fear and watch the movie when it was released.

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Seo-Hyun Ahn in Okja (2017). © Netflix

So what could a movie about a super pig possibly be about? Director Joon-ho Bong’s film follows the super pig named Okja in the mountains of South Korea with her protective, loving, teenage owner Mija. Set in a world that is rapidly running out of food, modern environmental tycoon Lucy Mirando, played by Tilda Swinton, comes up with the idea to genetically breed a species of super-pigs for food, send them to farmers across the world to raise them, and see which pig is superior by the end of the 7 years long competition. When Okja is named the winner of the Super Pig contest, Mija’s life is turned upside down as she fights, with help from her allies in the Animal Liberation Federation, to save her best friend from the dire fate she was created for. Coincidentally, I was in my third week of my month-long challenge of restraining from meat when I watched this, and, I must say, this film actually made me contemplate becoming a vegetarian.

Bong’s latest film is stacked with star power, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Lily Collins, but their fine performances are nothing compared to Seo-Hyun Ahn as the courageous Mija and her CGI pet. One of the first heart-pumping scenes, when the super pig saves her friend from falling off a cliff, sets the tone of their insanely lovable bond and makes it clear that Okja is a creature that doesn’t deserve the fate she was made for. Mija stops for nothing and no one when her friend is taken away from her and you only wish you were there to help her get her pig back. Language barriers or small spaces don’t stop the duo from trying to save each other. Mija, literally, runs miles to prevent her Okja from seeing her horrific fate, and the scared super pig cares more her lifelong friend’s safety than her one. Despite Okja being a fictional creature, their unbreakable friendship is one of the most tender, genuine relationships I’ve seen on screen.

Okja’s fate is the premise of the film, but it doesn’t shy away from the other super pigs who have been made for slaughter. Some of the most devastating scenes in the movie are when the secret factory of thousands of super pigs are jammed together and the mating travesty that the ALF characters and audience knew was happening. Okja is the pig that becomes so special to everyone the moment she is seen, but it doesn’t stop the thought of what will happen to the rest of the innocent super pigs, only making what happens in the end that much more satisfying.

In her quest to save Okja, the young girl has to interact with English-speaking acquaintances. I loved that once she leaves her home in the mountains, subtitles are not always used to translate what she is saying, a great way to show that she is a foreigner in a world unthinkably different than hers. My only complaint about the impressively imaginative film is that it put a bit too much focus on Swinton and Gyllenhaal’s characters. Not to say that they weren’t interesting characters, but I wasn’t as intrigued by their arcs and found it annoying to be taken away from Mija and Okja’s adventure, even just momentarily. The Lucy and Nancy Mirando chronicles could have been more successful if it was their movie, but their story just made Lucy more irritating than sympathetic and Nancy’s late appearance on screen odd. That said, the distracting characters don’t draw enough attention away from the true story–a girl fighting to keep her best friend alive.

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