Thursday, June 29, 2017

Okja (2017)

There’s a certain cognitive dissonance in eating meat.  We like meat.  It tastes good.  At the same time, we know where it comes from.  We know that steak comes from cows.  We know that bacon comes from pigs.  Yet, we still eat meat.  When Lucy Mirando introduces her company’s new food source, she dresses it up really nice.  The super pig, as she calls it, is non-GMO and environmentally friendly.   It can potentially end world hunger, or at least put a serious dent in it.  As part of a publicity campaign, she sends 26 piglets to farms in 26 different countries to be raised.  In a decade’s time, the most beautiful one will be given a parade.

Mija is a girl living on one of those farms.  She lives there with her grandfather and plays with the pig, named Okja.  As Okja is the title character, we can imagine that the pig will be picked as the best one and brought back to the United States.  When the time comes, Mija has to be led away so as not to interfere.  When she finds out, she chases after her beloved companion and eventually catches up with her.

This leads her on an odyssey wherein she meets the Animal Liberation Front, a group dedicated to eliminating the suffering of animals and people.  Their plan, should Mija give consent, is to use Okja as a Trojan Horse to get footage of Mirando’s facilities.  This footage could bring an end to the mistreatment of animals.  If you’ve ever seen similar movies or TV episodes, you know that this isn’t going to be a pretty picture.  We’re not shown everything, but the movie does like to push it to the edge.  We’re shown live animals in deplorable conditions.  We’re shown dead animals being processed.  Make no mistake:  This is not meant to be a cute, kid-friendly picture.

It’s hard to tell where, exactly, Joon-ho Bong was going with the movie.  (He both directed and wrote it.)  On the one hand, it is a very serious message.  We’re given an animal that means the world to a little girl and she’s serious about stopping the death of her best friend.  Then again, many of the other characters are caricatures to varying degrees.  One member, in an effort to reduce his carbon footprint, won’t eat a tomato that was transported using fossil fuels.  Johnny Wilcox, a washed-up TV personality, is basically a flamboyant drunk.

Then there’s Lucy Mirando, who is capitalism incarnate.  She seems nice until she brings it back to money.  It’s worth noting that she has a twin sister who’s even worst.  Both admit that they couldn’t hold a candle to their father, who was primarily described as psychopathic.  (Coming from those two, that means something.)

The movie is entertaining.  The use of a super pig as a stand-in for meat ends up being a wise choice.  Despite the size of the animal, we still feel for her just as Mija does.  Okja shows us the evils of meat processing without actually putting us off from any meat in particular.  It’s not clear if the movie is meant to be an indictment of eating meat or just the way meat is processed.

When I first came across the movie, I added it quickly.  After reading descriptions, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the movie.  I finally decided to just watch the movie.  It wasn’t until later that I realize that the director also made The Host, another movie that I liked.

I’d say it was definitely worth the two hours for me.  I did enjoy the movie and felt it worked well.  This is what movies with a message could aspire to.  I found the balance of message and story to be good.  I don’t know that everyone is going to like the movie.  As I said, other movies and TV episodes have dealt with the topic.  If it at all makes you squeamish, I’d avoid the movie.  There are a few scenes that will probably necessitate you ending the movie early.  This is really the only issue that I’d warn people about.  I’m not saying that it will be a deal breaker, but I should at least put it out there.  Overall, I didn’t find it as over the top as I expected.  The eccentricities of Lucy Mirando and Johnny Wilcox weren’t enough to turn me away from the movie.

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