Okja - 2017
Okja is Joon-ho Bong’s follow-up to his 2013’s Snowpiercer. It competed for the Palme d’Or in this year’s Cannes Film Festival and garnered some controversy due to its Netflix production backing. Traditionally, movies that participate in this competition haven’t been sold to a production company and many thought it ruined the Cannes tradition. This controversy was quickly extinguished after the movie was screened and loved. This movie has an incredible cast with Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Giancarlo Esposito and Steven Yeun, but its led by Seo-Hyun Ahn as a young girl trying to save the life of her giant mutant pig (Okja) from the multi-national company that created it.
As the tiny plot synopsis I did above may indicate, this movie is on the… weird side. While it can turn people off due to the weird nature of the premise, the main theme and the human connection the movie makes by using this mutant pig is beyond powerful. I found myself caring and rooting for this giant CGI animal all the way to the end. There were moments in this film in where you completely forget that this is a CGI animal and not a living breathing animal.
Bong did an incredible job directing his actors how to interact with Okja. There isn’t one scene in which you fail to believe that the actors aren’t in the same spaces as their CGI counterpart. The visual effects in this movie are also top notch, having the light and shadows almost mimic a real animal. Yes, there are scenes where it is obvious we are looking at a CGI creation, but for the most part they did an incredible job.
Seo-Hyun Ahn’s acting in this movie helped the audience buy into the premise that a young girl would go across the world just to save her pig. The desperation in her eyes and voice as she is chasing the truck that took her friend, her confidant and her family away is heartbreaking. Bong gave us a great intimate sequence in which we got to see a normal day in the life of Okja and Ahn. As they play and eat alone in a remote jungle in Korea, you can see that this relationship has been built on the back of many years. You can see how this little girl found a true friend and escaped loneliness in this giant CGI pig, and you believe it.
I will talk briefly about the supporting players around Ahn in a second but I wanted to first single out Jake Gyllenhaal. He plays Dr. Johnny Wilcox, an extravagant zoologist who is the face and spokesperson of the multi-national company that created Okja. This is his weirdest and craziest performance, probably since his long-forgotten role in Bubble Boy. I flat out loved his performance and his dedication to the character. The way he changed his voice when the cameras where rolling was hilarious when contrasted to how he talked in real life. On the surface, he is a crazy wacky side character, but he has one of the saddest and heart-rending story arch of the movie. I continue to be impressed with Gyllenhaal’s movie selection and his acting abilities.
This movie has a great supporting cast. Tilda Swinton plays a wacky CEO in charge of the super pig program that created Okja. Just like her previous collaboration with Bong in Snowpiercer, she finds a way to make you hate her character and completely understand all her actions. Swinton is one of the few working actors today that make me sit up and pay attention to any movie she touches. Paul Dano plays the leader of what in the real world would equate to a more extreme version of PETA. Dano delivered all his lines in a low tone along with always having an endless stream of love coming from his eyes. I know that’s a weird description of a performance but that’s how he made me feel.
Okja is a weird small story that feels big in scale. It tackles many subjects and it takes a lot of chances in its story telling and tone. While it doesn’t always hit its marks, when it does it lands hard. This is by far the best Netflix original movie to come out in this heavily loaded year. If you ever considered or wondered if you should stop eating meat this movie will swing you to the vegetarian side. I made a connection with a CGI mutant pig and that’s why I love movies.
Okja is currently streaming on Netflix. Grab yourself a salad and enjoy this movie.
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