Netflix’s new original film Okja opens with a fantastic scene which sets up the image that the Mirando Corporation, the film’s evil-doer, is trying to sell to the public. Tilda Swinton perfectly embodies this ad-like PR dream, with her energetic, confident and heroic demeanour. Like a prophetic Steve Jobs, Lucy Mirando (Swinton’s character) unfolds the premise of the film. In an effort to distance itself from its dark history, the corporation has produced super-pigs, giant pigs that produce larger and tastier meat in an effort to solve world hunger. These super-pigs also have the advantage of being environmentally friendly to breed. This opening scene introduces us to the PR world, one of the major themes of the film.
We are then taken to Korea, one the countries in which these super-pigs are raised. During purposely long scenes (possibly to permit us to enjoy the breath-taking scenery of the Korean mountains), we see the incredibly close bond between Mija (played by An Seo Hyun) and Okja, the super-pig that her grandfather is catering for on behalf of the Mirando Corporation. It is mostly during this part of the movie that we can see the beauty and innovation of Bong Joon-Ho’s (the director) cinematography. One particular scene is a scene in which Mija chases a truck through the streets of Seoul, and through his use of panning and aerial shots, Joon-Ho delivers a gripping and entertaining sequence. There are also a number of poetic moments in this movie that are due to the cinematography. One really stood out for its poetic appeal (although the entire movie could be seen as a poem), and that was the umbrella scene at the mall. Flying tranquiliser darts, pepper sprays and the possible hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damages are contrasting with a peaceful ambiance accomplished by tranquil music, rainbow umbrella shields, and a muted world apart from the muffled sounds of the various weapons being fired. Surreal scenes such as this one establish Okja as a fairy-tale, and the quirky, archetypal characters reinforce the idea that this is a child’s view of the world and of capitalism.
The visual making of Okja also serves the theme of the movie. The satirising of the worship of public relations, which is central to the film, is clear even in the way the movie is filmed and how the scenery is set. Lucy Mirando and her corporation are all dressed and designed perfectly in soothing pastel colours, while the evil side of the livestock industry is always portrayed during the night, in somber rooms, where thousands of pigs can be seen behind electrified barbed wire, giving it an uncomfortable concentration camp look. All corporate scenes are meticulous and flawless, similarly to how a real company would want a promotional video to be like. Okja is a PR exercise. What is good or is meant to look good is beautiful, and what is corrupt and vile must be depicted at its absolute worse and most disgusting.
Cinematography is not the only way PR is satirised and portrayed. A number of dialogues and character actions furthers demonstrates the idiosyncrasy of the PR world. At one point, we see a Mirando executive taking a selfie with an abducted and distressed super-pig. The same employee also warns other workers about leaking information on social media.
And while the PR world constitutes the majority of the film, the message that grabs us at the end of the film is not so much about the two-faced nature of capitalism, but it goes back down to the theme of animal welfare. What we end up seeing is not how capitalism is deceitful to the general public or twelve-year-old girls, but the horrific way in which our food is produced. Images of slaughter are explicit enough for us to finally link our meat to living, breathing beings, but not gory enough for the film to feel judging and to ride us with guilt.
This final note makes Okja a truly iconic and possibly soon to be cult film for vegans and animal lovers, without the moralising and self-righteous attitude of previous attempts at the genre. It subtly explores speciesism (the view that human beings and certain animals are superior to others, also known as human supremacism or the idea that it is morally acceptable to eat some animals and not others) and will make you rethink and discover your place in the world and the animal kingdom. The CGI fictional animals and the child-like cartoonish characters allow the film to distance itself enough from reality to not feel like a vegan’s propaganda tool, and this is a film to be appreciated by all, from vegetarians to full on omnivores.
With the subtlety of its message, the fun and intriguing action scenes, the simple plot and its great characters, Okja is already on the way to becoming a wide-reaching, loved blockbuster, possibly Netflix’s first, and certainly not its last if the company continues this way.
A major upgrade from Joon-Ho’s previous directorial job on Snowpiercer, Okja came with a few reservations (like having giant CGI super-pigs as opposed to real life pigs), but it turned out that Okja is a superb film, in every aspect. It would be a shame for anyone to miss it (Although I do advise you don’t show this film to younger viewers, as some scenes could be quite distressing for children).
Okja is streaming on Netflix now.