A closer look at… Okja

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Okja is available on Netflix and on DVD

The Scoop

It’s the latest thing in food production. Lucy Mirando, the new CEO of the formerly ruthless Mirando corporation, is happy to announce that they have developed a new breed of genetically engineered super-pig. As part of a publicity stunt meant to bolster Mirando’s touchy-feely new image, twenty six piglets will be sent out to farms in different parts of the world to be raised by local farmers using traditional methods.

In South Korea, a pig named Okja is brought up by young Mija (Seo Hyun) and her grandfather (Byun Hee-Bong). Girl and pig share a close bond – and Mija is heartbroken when the Mirando corporation return to claim what’s theirs. To make matters worse, animal rights activist Jay (Paul Dano) tells her that Okja is being sent to America to be slaughtered. Can Mija and her friends make a stand  and save Okja’s bacon?

Our Take

Maybe Okja just made me feel bad: I’m an animal lover but not a vegetarian, and the hypocrisy of this doesn’t escape me. But, meat-eater’s guilt aside, there’s something about the film’s combination of sentiment and moral heavy-handedness that rubbed me up the wrong way.

There’s plenty here to like. The titular pig is such a seamless CGI creation that the miracle of it almost goes unnoticed. Seo Hyun is great as Mija, and the always brilliant Paul Dano gives a lovely, soulful performance. There are some sharp satirical moments in the script and some thrilling action scenes.

But the tone is all over the place, veering from the genuinely horrifying to   cartoonish slapstick seemingly aimed at children. All in all it never really coheres – and I’m not sure the film is as loveable as it sets out to be.

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Dig Deeper

  • Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? If you have seen any other films directed by Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) or written by Jon Ronson (Frank), how did Okja compare?
  • How does the film set up the friendship between Okja and Mija? Did you find their bond convincing? Did it remind you of any other classic stories featuring animals and children?
  • What do you think really motivates Lucy Mirando? Would you describe her as entirely a villain, and is her brand of villainy more or less sinister than her sister’s? How might she reflect aspects of our image-obsessed society?

 ‘Lucy Mirando, she thinks that she’s more elegant, more eco-friendly; she’s more obsessed with the marketing aspect of it and how it looks on the exterior.’ – Director Bong Joon Ho 

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  • How did you feel about Okja‘s shifts in genre between broad comedy, charming fable and dark satire? Which aspects of the film did you warm to the most, and do you feel it successfully combined its different tones?
  • To what extent are the film’s ‘heroes’ – the non-violent warriors of the Animal Liberation Front – being satirised along with its villains? Does Okja suggest that it’s possible to truly live out an ethos of non-violence? Do you think it’s possible to bring real change without harming anyone or anything?

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  • Did the film make you feel uncomfortable about our society’s treatment of animals, and why or why not? Did it challenge your personal views on the ethics of eating meat?

Films either show animals as soulmates or else we see them in documentaries being butchered. I wanted to merge those worlds. The division makes us comfortable but the reality is that they are the same animal. – Director Bong Joon Ho

  • Who, and what, gets turned into a ‘product’ over the course of Okja? In what ways are we encouraged to consume people, relationships, animals, images and many other things as ‘products’ in our society? What consequences does this have?

 

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Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at www.damarismedia.com Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.