Hello! I’m back with my thoughts on Bong Joon Ho’s Okja! I watched it a few weeks ago, but you know how it goes — between work, presidential primaries, and the looming threat of a global pandemic, you get busy! Anyway, here are some of my formed thoughts about the film, which I found a thoroughly endearing watch.
Not a lot of people know this, but I was a vegetarian for about 2.5 years when I went to school at Berkeley. Reading Jonathan Safron Foer’s Eating Animals prompted me to adopt this diet change, especially as I learned about the unsanitary, cruel, and unsustainable practices at factory farms. Now, my understanding of meat is more nuanced. I’m especially more cognizant of how a healthy vegetarian lifestyle can be inaccessible and also that trendy vegan products are full of plastic pollutants. It’s a complicated and personal matter, suffice to say. I’m still trying to eat less meat, though.
Watching Bong Joon Ho’s Okja, many of my vegetarian memories resurfaced. I won’t revert to my vegetarian days, but I do laud Bong for creating this emotionally effective, visually stunning film that calls for critical thinking as society navigates the effects of unfettered capitalism (a common thread throughout Bong’s work that I’ve seen so far). In terms of narrative and themes, I don’t think it’s as tight as Parasite, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit.
My favorite aspect of this movie is the performances. Bong creates wacky characters who make the film all the more memorable and enlists actors who make it more visceral. Seo-Hyeon Ahn captures so much of the innocence and rebellious spirit of Mija. She grounds the film in a way that’s still cheeky and brazen without ever getting too earnest. Bong isn’t afraid of getting weird, either. Tilda Swinton lends the character of Lucy Mirando a fun campiness. And Jake Gyllenhaal as a narcissistic and emotionally fraught man who embodies the banality of toxic masculinity? I’m into it. I also enjoyed Paul Dano and Choi Woo-shik’s characters. Dano gives off Neo from The Matrix energy, and Choi is fun, even if his role is slight.
Other than the performances, I appreciated the cartoon-like quality of the movie. What do I mean? The plot is simple and streamlined, which I appreciate in a film. Mija and the AFL’s mission throughout is to rescue Okja. There’s also a whimsy to it that made it less holier than thou than it could be. I’m thinking of those animated chase scenes throughout Seoul and how they make Okja such a playful character (with her pooping and gallivanting about in the mountains with Mija).
I do think that the film can be, at times, as heavy-handed as something like Eating Animals. My understanding of at least one of the movie’s messages is that we should be cognizant of business claims and marketing as consumers. Many companies brand themselves as eco-chic (like Mirando Corp) while still greenlighting practices that denigrate the environment, ultimately manipulating the consumer. While Mirando is killing fewer pigs, it’s still killing pigs and leaving them in horrible conditions, just supersizing them to ultimately maximize its profits.
The movie doesn’t have a happy ending, even if Okja and that one piglet get rescued. The other pigs are still fated to die and Mirando will still make a ton of money. The AFL is just getting back out there, though, and the good fight continues. That’s the message I’m keeping, anyway.