The meat industry will always be one that completely divides people. Vegans and vegetarians will argue that animals are not ours to eat and shouldn't suffer to become a burger on someone's plate. There's also the fact that livestock accounts for 15% of global emissions and processed meat has been found to cause cancer. However others will tell you that animals are on this planet to be eaten and it's their right to kill them for food. It's the views of the latter group of people that Okja aims to challenge as this heart-warming tale of a giant pig makes you open your eyes to what really goes on behind closed doors of slaughterhouses around the world.
Okja has just been released on Netflix, but the film first came to people's attention back in May when it caused a stir at Cannes. The film got booed when the logo of its studio Netflix appeared before the screening, but at the end of the movie it received a four minute standing ovation. Talk about changing people's views!
From the outside, Okja appears to be a moving tale of a young girl called Mija and her best friend Okja, who just happens to be a genetically modified super pig. Running free together in the Korean mountains, the picturesque opening of the film has you wishing your best friend was a super pig too. However when you dig a little deeper, Director Bong Joon Ho has created a powerful story about the brutal reality of the meat industry and how little respect the human race has placed on the animals in it.
Paul McCartney once said "if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian". Well Okja takes you behind those walls and what you see may shock you. Those idyllic opening scenes are soon forgotten and you realise that Okja is simply one of thousands of super pigs lab-bred for food by Mirando Corporation, a company run by Tilda Swinton with Jake Gyllenhall playing a zoologist and public face of the company. However, there's hope for Okja in the form of the Animal Liberation Front led by Paul Dano. But the real star of the show is 13-year-old Seo-Hyun Ahn who is simply amazing in the role of Mija.
It's the hidden camera work of the ALF that gives us a glimpse into the harsh reality of a slaughterhouse and it's not dissimilar to hidden camera footage you see of similar facilities in the UK. These scenes are not pleasant viewing. They're painful to watch but that's the way they're meant to be seen. Maybe it appears more shocking because these super pigs resemble something more like an elephant or hippopotamus which would spark outrage if lined up and killed in such a way. Yet for some reason the majority of society doesn't bat an eyelid when farm animals are treated like this.
Okja will have you laughing one minute as the super pig goes on the run through a shopping mall, and crying the next as two super pigs lined up for slaughter push their tiny baby under an electric fence to be saved by Mika and Okja, knowing well what fate would await their child if they didn't.
It's beautiful, disturbing, raw and powerful all at once. It melts your heart one minute and makes you squirm the next. And if it makes you stop eating meat or question the treatment of farm animals that are simply bred and killed for food then Director Bong Joon Ho has done his job. It's time we started taking more responsibility for what's on our plates, and I think after watching this film you probably will.