“Not that there’s anything wrong with that” as Seinfeld would say.
Netflix’s Okja has garnered praise ever since it’s release back in July. Some have gone as far as to say it’s the best Netflix original film that’s been put out so far. The movie follows a “super-pig” named Okja that was created in a lab by the Mirando meat packing company and is about 100x bigger than a normal sized pig, and a girl named Mija, a 14 year old who raised Okja for the past 10 years. The Mirando corporation gave out 26 of their super-pigs to farmers around the globe, one of which was Mija’s grandfather, and after 10 years they would choose who raised the best super pig and take the pig back to New York to be celebrated and eventually slaughtered and sold to the consumers.
In Okja, Netflix aims to romanticize the animals that are killed in slaughterhouses every day. These pigs were designed by this company to be eaten and that is deliberately clear at the beginning of the movie. In her opening speech, the head of the Mirando cooperation, Lucy Mirando, addreses the world's growing population. The world is running out of food to feed everyone. Their plan is to launch this super pig project in an effort to change that. Starting the movie with this scene displayed the movie’s plan to show the good and the bad of the meat packing industry and the animal rights activists. They even show the leader of the Animal Liberation Front brutally beating one of their members for betraying the honor of their organization later on.
But, the main focus of the movie is the relationship between Mija and and her pet super pig, Okja. At the very beginning of the movie, Okja saves Mija’s life when she’s about to fall off a cliff, a scene that is only necessary to play with the emotions of the viewer, one of the main calling cards of the film. Throughout the entire movie, Okja is intended to be a sympathetic figure. They want the audience to see Okja as more than a pig, because to Mija, Okja is more than just a pig. Okja is her best friend.
The movie is trying to build Okja up to be like a dog, which is a smart tactic for anyone trying to promote veganism. If every animal was viewed the same way that humans view dogs, it would be a disaster for the meat packing industry. Imagine if the meat packing industry did what they do to pigs and cows, but instead to dogs. It would be 100x more horrifying to the average person. For some reason, people have chosen dogs and cats as the sympathetic companion animals and pigs and cows as food sources. Knowing that, the movie tries extremely hard to play up Okja as a pet, and they do a great job.
Once they have built up the viewer-Okja relationship, the movie gets very morbid in the scenes inside of the meat packing industry, showing a drunk scientist stumble around forcing animals to mate and taking meat samples directly from Okja’s live body. The film later shows Mija coming to rescue Okja as Okja is getting sent into the slaughterhouse to be murdered. With minutes of footage of Mija frantically running around the slaughterhouse seeing meat being thrown around, leaving Mija and the viewer to wonder whether or not one of those pieces of meat is Okja, as well as giving the viewer the images of what really happens to animals in slaughterhouses. It’s a new-age version of Food Inc. A movie that looks to take down the meat packing industry, but instead of using real raw footage and numbers to explain the horrors of the meat packing industry, Okja uses emotion.
There’s nothing wrong with the movie playing with the viewer's emotion like that, most good movies tug at the heartstrings of the audience. Netflix is successful in doing so, and whether or not the set out to turn people vegan, that may be exactly what they do. Co-writer Jon Ronson told the Hollywood Reporter, “I think there’s a whole load of 16-year-olds who don’t realize where their food comes from or don’t realize that within five weeks time they’re going to be vegetarian”. I remember being shown Food Inc. when I was in school and it did not land the same way Okja does. Okja personifies each super pig in the movie to make it feel like eating meat is murderous and psychotic and it will make you question your own morals and values eating meat, even if just for a second. Will Okja turn a whole generation of people in vegans. No, but it may have the best chance of turning someone vegan than any movie put out so far.
Regardless of how you may feel about veganism, Okja is one of the best films of 2017 so far. The scenes in the movie can be tough to watch at times, but it is well worth it. It will be hard for any future Netflix movie to match the beauty, culture, and emotion on display in Okja, At the end of the day, it’s just a story about a young girl and her beloved pet.
Photo: (Hindustan Times)