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Okja movie review: Netflix presents the most believable unreal animal ever

Durga M Sengupta | Updated on: 29 June 2017, 21:58 IST

Most of us can think back to that one animal that changed our lives as kids. For a large number of us that animal would be a dog or a cat, or in some cases, a bird or a turtle.

This creature would probably feature in some of our strongest memories, because when animals and humans connect, it can be truly special.

Joon-ho Bong's latest film Okja is a Netflix treasure that talks about this very bond. Except, the animal in question is a genetically modified pig call Okja.

Created by a typical New York-based 'evil company' called Mirando, Okja the 'Super Pig' is one of many such pigs transported to different parts of the world as part of an experiment. Except, the pigs are supremely intelligent, loving, and compassionate creatures being raised to provide the best possible meat.

Okja's best-friend is a little girl called Mija. The duo spends its days climbing mountains, swimming, fishing and eating fruit in some idyllic place that's quite a climb up from Seoul. But then, Mirando swoops down on them and takes Okja away.

No, you aren't chopping onions

Now, this isn't a tale you haven't read or watched before. Except, Okja manages to weave a far more believable story with a far less believable creature.

She looks like an odd cross between a hippopotamus and a pig, with a bit of bull dog thrown in for good measure. Okja isn't a stunning creature, nor is she agile, or even graceful. She isn't cute like the pig in Babe, and she most certainly is too large to tick the 'aww' box.

That Bong manages to make Okja so likeable shows how much character he gives the creature. She isn't a prop in the film, and she shows high intelligence in the introductory scenes. Her likeability comes from how human she is.

And then, in one quick genius move, Bong sends her to the slaughterhouse. Now Mija must save her soul-sister, the only creature in the entire world she has any connection with. The most indifferent audience would find themselves shocked, because surely, a creature that intelligent cannot be killed for meat?

Bong exposes our own hypocrisies in the matter, by showing us the abuse an animal suffers for us to gain the 'produce' we happily consume, and yet tear up when it happens to an animal on the screen.

The film, thus, makes a strong case for vegetarianism without once preaching it.

Acting, story, message = 100

Other than the gripping story and the stunning animation that brings Okja the Super Pig to life, a large chunk of the credit also goes to some great performances.

Tilda Swinton, as the twins Lucy and Nancy Mirando who own the company, is so believable as two different characters, that you could tell who's who with one look. She also has an avant garde Cruella De Vil air about her, except the Mirando twins are slightly less garish.

The girl, Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) gets most of the credit for bringing this creature to life. Her acting is so on point that not for a second would you find anything odd about the Mija-Okja romance. It should also be acknowledged that in a star-studded film, she completely holds her own.

Amid this complete pandemonium, the filmmaker chooses to play 'You Fill Up My Senses'

Other noteworthy performances include Jake Gyllenhaal's as the once-famous TV star Johnny Wilcox, and Paul Dano's as the rule-abiding bleeding heart Animal Liberation Front (ALF) member Jay.

The film is well-shot, with an incredible amount of action for a film with a child-protagonist. In fact, one of its best sequences is inside a mall where Okja and Mija are causing mayhem trying to flee with ALF and Mirando on their tails.

Amid this complete pandemonium, the filmmaker chooses to play 'You Fill Up My Senses' in the background, painting it absurd and real all at once.

Okja, unlike other animal rescue op films, doesn't end with a clean cut. It leaves the viewer troubled, refusing to resolve a problem that spills out of the film and onto our dinner plates.

Should you watch it?

Yes, yes, absolutely yes. If you have Netflix, start streaming now. If you don't, ask a friend for their password.

Slight warning: If you're watching this film while eating, you may not enjoy your meat very much.

Rating: 4.5/5

First published: 29 June 2017, 21:58 IST
 
Durga M Sengupta @the_bongrel

Feminist and culturally displaced, Durga tries her best to live up to her overpowering name. She speaks four languages, by default, and has an unhealthy love for cheesy foods. Assistant Editor at Catch, Durga hopes to bring in a focus on gender politics and the role in plays in all our interactions.

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