18-24 August 2017 #872

Okja

For people who love animals, have pets at home that they think of as friends rather than furry creatures to be kicked around, and cannot bear to see living creatures suffer, then Okja is a painful must.
Sophia Pande

For people who love animals, have pets at home that they think of as friends rather than furry creatures to be kicked around, and cannot bear to see living creatures suffer, then Okja is a painful must. For those who don’t care much for animals and bully vegetarians about why they are not vegan (because apparently, from their sarcastic world view, that’s the only real way to make a difference) – then perhaps Okja is also worth a chance. This is not because it will indoctrinate you with the irritatingly didactic lectures of sometimes holier-than-thou vegetarians but because it might provide insight into the killing and eating of sentient animals, which could adjust certain mindsets.

That being said, Okja itself, an incredibly surprising film by the idiosyncratically inclined Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, is not a pedantic film in any way. It is instead a wonderful, expansive work of imagination and tenderness that tells the story of young girl Mija (the superb, fierce actress Ahn Seo-hyun) who develops a special bond with her super-pig Okja, a genetically modified creature who is a gimmick used by the evil (there’s really no other word for it) Mirando corporation to increase their pork sales.

Okja is part of a 10-year experiment devised by the totally wonky (not in an endearing way) Lucy Mirando, a scion of the corporation named after her family of admitted psychopaths. Okja is conceived in a lab, unbeknownst to the public who are told she is a “special breed,” and 26 of her kind are sent to be reared by farmers around the world so that 10 years later the world can see the “natural” results. In that time, Okja grows up in the verdant rolling hills of South Korea, playing with Mija, roaming and grazing freely. The intelligence that Okja, who is a huge and adorable mix of pig, dog and elephant, displays is unnerving, even for those who are acquainted with the keen instincts of animals. It is therefore even more heart-breaking when Okja and Mija are separated by Mirando.

The determined, unflappable Mija sets out to save Okja, going first to Seoul and then to New York to rescue her friend. Along the way she meets a group of animal activists who both help and hinder her, and becomes unfortunately acquainted with a superficial world that is easily swayed by the media.

For animal lovers, I will spare you any distress: Okja is saved, but not without some pain, and the final scene where she is led by Mija from an animal factory housing thousands of her kind waiting for slaughter is grim beyond description.

There are lessons here, about people who’ll do anything to make money, about human-animal bonds that are sometimes stronger than those between people, but mostly about loyalty and fierce courage in the face of despair. Okja came to be because Netflix, now available in Nepal, took a chance on what could have been – and still slightly is – an outlandish film. I did not adore the movie unconditionally, but I do love Okja and Mija, and I will not forget them.

Trailer:

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