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Okja Quickly Goes From Delightful to Disgusting

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By John Black

1 star

On the surface, it looks like a cute and cuddly family fantasy film about the friendship between a giant pig and a young girl.

Looks, and trailers for that matter, can be deceiving. While there are certainly some extremely cute family friendly moments in Okja, particularly in the beginning, the film ends up being a lot darker than one would imagine from the promotional material.

Okja begins with the story of a greedy corporate executive Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) who claims to have naturally bred a super pig that could be the key to ending world hunger. A test group of the animals are sent to local farmers around the world to see what country the super pig thrives in best. Ten years after the program beings, Mirando and her animal handler/shill Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) start weeding through the pigs to find out which one will be the face – and the flavor profile – of the corporation’s new piggy products.

Their search leads them to Korea, where a young girl named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her gigantic pet pig Okja live an idyllic life romping through the forest, bathing in the stream and sleeping in each other’s arms. It’s as warm and fuzzy as any animal/owner relationship you’ve ever see on film and, of course, it’s not going to last. Before you even stop saying “that’s so cute,” Wilcox and his goons show up to kidnap the pig and take him to New Jersey.

And it is just about this time that Okja quickly goes from PG-13 to what feels like an R rating. (Netflix, the company releasing the film, doesn’t give it any official rating, only advising viewers through its press materials to “treat (it) as PG-13”.) Mija, against her express wishes, is recruited to be a pawn by a radical animal rights group called the Animal Liberation Front, led by a creepy, yet charismatic guy named Jay (Paul Dano). After freeing the super pig and his friend from the bad guys, Jay and his group puts a hidden video monitor in Okja and then allows him to be recaptured so they can get footage of what happens in the secret lab run by Mirando’s company. What happens, we are soon shown, is murder, rape/forced breeding, vivisection, dismemberment and other crimes taking place against the animals under Mirando’s control. We are even ‘treated’ to a scene where a drunken Wilcox takes samples of Okja flesh, cooks it up and then feeds it to taste testers who proclaim it the best pork they’ve ever eaten.

It’s all pretty disgusting.

One can argue that the grimness and goriness of director Bong’s vision for what happens inside the Mirando company science lab/slaughter house is necessary to give the audience a visceral experience of what is happening to Okja and his fellow super pigs. That would be acceptable if the film was being marketed to adults who may be more prepared to watch what happens, although what they see will shock them, still. The problem is that Okja isn’t being marketed to adults, though. It’s being sold as a fun family film. Making the decision of what is wrong or right for a family to watch is, of course, subjective and at the discretion of individual parents. Those with younger children may want to watch it with them to explain what is happening and be there with a handkerchief and a hug went it ends.




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