“Okja” is an amazing movie. The premise of raising a giant genetically modified pig is only part of the story. For starters, like “Beasts of No Nation” a couple of years ago, this movie is specifically made for Netflix. That is why I jumped at the chance to see it on the big screen.
The story centers on a family that has chosen to help raise a pig-like creature that, for all intents and purposes, is nothing more than food. The lead character is Mija, played by 13-year-old Seo-Hyun Ahn, who gives a remarkable performance. Ahn’s portrayal reminds me of Natalie Portman in “The Professional” involving a young girl with maturity beyond her years. The relationship of Okja and Mija is central to the storyline.
The rest of the cast all give credible performances, especially Paul Dano as Jay, leader of the ALF, an animal activist group that rescues creatures from death and abuse. Also enjoyable is Jake Gyllenhaal as Johnny Wilcox, a pseudo animal activist celebrity who claims to be on the side of good, but turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. My point of reference comparison would be Kenneth Branagh’s supporting turn in “Harry Potter and “the Chamber of Secrets” as the fraudulent teacher Gilderoy Lockhart.
Also worthy of mention is Lily Collins as Red, who aids Jay and other members of the ALF. She was good in this part, as she was in the little-seen “Rules Don’t Apply” last year. Also commendable is supporting actor Steven Yeun as K, a member of the ALF team.
Tilda Swinton returns to the screen as the antagonist of the story, portraying sisters Lucy and Nancy Mirando. Nancy defends the killing of the pigs by saying “They just better (expletive) taste good.” She justifies the
slaughter by referencing supposed facts about the pigs’ carbon footprint. She says killing the animals reduces greenhouse gases and toxic waste.
“Okja” is unrated, but with some brutal deaths near the end, I would give it a PG-13 rating. The violence is not necessary, but it does affect the storyline.
I really appreciated this movie, due in part to the direction by Bong Joon Ho who also did a great job with 2006’s “The Host.” More recently he directed the dystopian train saga “Snowpiercer” (2013), which received a great deal of praise, but to me was just an average story. “Snowpiercer” featured Chris Evans (“Captain America,” “The First Avenger,” “Push,” “Gifted”) as a character who lives on a train that goes endlessly around the planet.
For the sake of comparison, I would liken “Okja” to Steven Spielberg’s 1982 masterpiece “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “The NeverEnding Story” (1984). Both were family fun bordering on fantasy.