Okja Review

How far would the audience go to save the life of an innocent creature? Some would not go all that far, as they would be chowing down on some greasy meat product as they slam their way through Okja. That is the beauty of home entertainment, we can eat and drink whatever we like as we passively engage with this environmental warning from Bong Joon-ho. Okja is the calm before the storm that was Parasite. For that, then, we can see where the social message of Okja comes to life, and the reason for it. Environmentalism is a great pop to feature in a Netflix original, and as Joon-ho makes the rounds with this ensemble, the sketch marks of his commentary-driven Oscar-winner can be seen. 

Flashy products displayed by the twinkly-eyed, white-dress wearing Tilda Swinton are decent enough. Dialogue marks up the “atrocities committed in this space” that she now reclaims as her own vision. The rotten past is shunted out, at least on the surface. Swinton’s work is often exceptional, and Okja offers no surprises to the quality of her work. Another superb performance from her as the typically ominous twins, Lucy and Nancy Mirando. They have discovered a new creature deep in the heart of Chile and brought it back to the good old U.S. of A. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the man that presides over her, or at least it would seem so. Gyllenhaal is obnoxious as ever, but it is more because he has to play himself up as a man completely unhinged. He barely manages it, and the animals they breed in captivity must taste good. That is their aim. 

But the aim of another, more resourceful protagonist is that of freedom. Who cares for how good they taste? These are creatures that deserve to live on. That they (probably) do, although Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her various attempts at protecting the titular beast are falling upon deaf ears. If we wish to eat something, we certainly will. Her performance is solid, benefitting well from not having to compete with Swinton, Gyllenhaal or Giancarlo Esposito in her early, most rewarding moments. That being said, while the special effects do look rather remarkable, the direction from Joon-ho is not at all incredible. He would have something far deeper to comment on in his later feature, Parasite, but Okja suffers from feeling too forced and rushed and underwhelming. Snowpiercer, more or less, but with the elements of environmentalism and animal ethics, rather than overpopulation and hierarchical living.  

Still, at least Joon-ho is commentating on something. So many out there piece together a manifesto, and then a film. Okja is at least entertaining, if not a little redundant. There are moments within Okja that bring to life that age-old tale of English explorers. When meeting with the giant tortoise and attempting to bring it home, they simply could not. They were too delicious. England ate them to extinction every time they tried to bring them back home, presumably to eat anyway. The revolutions of the livestock industry are far slower than we should hope for, but Okja’s occasional glimpse into how terrifying it really is gives us no cause for care or concern. Maybe the warmer hearts will prevail someday, but until then, reality will.  

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