Okja is one of the strangest movies of this or any year in recent memory. You may have read about its high-profile debut at the Cannes Film Festival. I can’t imagine what audiences there made of this strange hybrid of family film, ecological satire, and farce. Korean writer-director Bong Joon Ho is internationally renowned for such unusual fare as Mother, The Host, and Snowpiercer, but nothing could prepare viewers for this fable about a wide-eyed girl and her pet super-pig.
Yes, I said super-pig. An evil corporation run by neurotic Tilda Swinton has created twenty-six genetically enhanced porkers and sent them around the world to grow for ten years. The best animal will then be selected at a high-profile competition in New York City. There’s just one predictable hitch: the Korean girl who raises this gigantic creature (played by Seo Hyun-Ahn) treats him as a pet and falls in love with him. When the time comes for the big bad corporation to haul him away she is distraught.
On the surface this sounds like a movie that might entertain children and send a message about love and compassion…while taking a swipe at genetically modified animals and the way we control our food supply.
So why would such a film drop the “f” bomb so often? And what rationale determined that the key grown-ups would be portrayed so broadly? Swinton even gets to play twins, which makes her performance twice as strident. I can’t explain Jake Gyllenhaal’s approach to his role, as a once-famous animal-friendly TV personality; now he’s a frantic has-been and shameless sell-out.
It’s mildly clever that Paul Dano’s character, who heads an animal rescue operation, is also a bumbler…but even this aspect of Okja is heavy-handed and unfunny.
I’m not sure if I’d show this to any kids I care about. Several scenes involving animal abuse and a slaughterhouse would upset them almost as much as they did me.
Technically speaking, Okja is as much a marvel as Life of Pi, persuading us that this hippo-sized pig really exists… but that’s where the comparison ends. As I say, this is a very strange movie for any audience, young or old.