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Movie Review

"Some pig."

Charlotte the spider spun those famous words over Wilbur the pig's stall in E.B. White's children's classic Charlotte's Web. But had Charlotte lived over Okja's pen, she would've had to underline the words and double her font size. Maybe triple it.

Okja is indeed some pig. In fact, she's a super pig, according to her corporate owners at Mirando Corp. She's the size of a Hummer, as cuddly as a Labrador puppy and capable of feeding a small European country all by herself.

If you killed and made bacon out of her, that is. After all, what good is an SUV-sized pig if you can't eat it?

That's what Okja was made for, according to the Mirando Corp. As the company tells it, Okja was one of 26 piglets birthed by a miraculous, freak-of-nature mother somewhere in Chile. The corporation—looking to show a kinder, gentler face to the world—shipped these 26 piglets off to 26 independent family farmers around the world as part of a grand, decade-long contest to see who might raise the most impressive super swine.

Lucy Mirando, the company's free-spirited CEO, believes these pigs may be the answer to the world's hunger problems. These massive animals have relatively tiny carbon footprints, too, which makes them a pert near perfect source of food in today's resource-strapped world. Lucy says they're "Mama Nature's gift."

Just one drawback: They're too cute to eat.

So believes Mija, anyway. The 14-year-old granddaughter of one of Mirando's indigenous pig farmers, Mija has spent the last decade caring for Okja in the lush mountains of South Korea. Okja's not just a farm animal for Mija. She's more than a beloved pet. Given Mija and her grandfather's geographical isolation, Okja's the closest thing that Mija has to a real friend.

Thankfully, Mija asked her grandfather to buy Okja back from Mirando, and he says he did. So she's not concerned when some representatives from the company arrive to take some final measurements and—well, isn't this a nice surprise!—tell them they've won the contest.

But then Mija's grandfather draws the girl aside and hands her a small golden pig statue—a traditional wedding gift, he tells her. Sure, she's nowhere close to getting married yet, but her grandfather says that perhaps it's start time to stop hanging out with pigs, visit the village and find a young man.

And then the grandfather makes a confession: Mirando wouldn't take his money. Okja still belongs to the company—and it will do with her as it likes.

"Okja is going far away, so you can keep this gold pig instead!" he tells her.

But no 24-karat pig will make up for the loss of Mija's real one. She's determined to bring Okja back—and she'll not let her grandfather or a multinational corporation stand in her way.

Positive Elements

Mija makes some questionable decisions, but you gotta admire the girl's pluck. Her love for her pet pig knows no bounds, and she pursues the animal halfway around the world.

But Okja's no slouch, either. The animal's pretty smart. And when Mija nearly falls off a cliff early on, Okja manages to grab the rope that Mija's holding and uses it to fling Mija to safety, even as Okja herself tumbles off that same cliff.

The two are eventually aided by a radical, ostensibly pacifistic animal rights organization, led by the schmaltzy-but-sincere Jay. He wants to use Okja to expose Mirando's terrible secrets. But he does truly care for Mija and her porcine pet, and he tries to protect both during their adventure. Mija's grandfather isn't a bad man, either: He loves his granddaughter very much, and Mija (albeit after running away) holds no ill will toward her guardian, even when the quest looks as if it'll terminate in tragedy.

And let's even give Lucy Mirando a little love, too. Sure, her corporation is responsible for Mija's troubles. But it was also responsible for connecting Mija and Okja in the first place. Moreover, Lucy's sincerely concerned with the problem of world hunger. She wants to feed as many people in (as she sees it) as responsible manner as possible. (Is that manner actually responsible, though? The movie would say no.)

Spiritual Content

None.

Sexual Content

A Mirando executive wants to build a publicity narrative around Mija and Okja, and she wants to push Mija—who's just 14 years old, remember—as "sweet, cute, totally gorgeous, totally sexy, hot, tiny, perfect." (But that executive doesn't want to make the same mistake that Mirando did with those "Asian models" sometime earlier. What exactly that mistake was, we're not told.)

Violent Content

Okja is a big animal, and she causes serious property damage when she's let loose in urban areas. Windows and shelves and furniture all take some serious tumbles. Cars get shoved aside and damaged when the pig runs by (and occasionally through) them. Okja chomps down on someone's arm, too, when she's scared and traumatized, leaving a bloody wound.

But the pig doesn't escape unscathed. Mija removes a massive burr from her foot. Elsewhere, another person pulls a jagged, bloody piece of crockery from her trotter. Okja also tumbles down a hill and hits a tree.

When Okja rescues Mija from a fall off a cliff, the animal disappears into the foliage below. Mija finds her later, mostly unharmed but a little sulky. Mija also suffers plenty of bumps and bruises herself: After a rollicking escape through Seoul, she sports a swollen black eye. She also takes a running leap into shatter-proof glass (which, after a pause, shatters).

Members of the animal rights organization say they hurt neither people nor animals, but they let that credo slide at times. Some of them attack private security guards who, in turn, kick and thwack the rebels with military batons. Several of the activists are seriously bloodied: One is stitched up in the back of a van, while a compatriot of his frets aloud that he's "bleeding out." Jay smashes someone's head against a table, then kicks and punches him repeatedly.

We hear that Mirando used to manufacture napalm, and that Lucy's grandfather was supposedly psychopathic. Lucy also references a time when Mirando's operations caused an entire lake to explode.

People slip and fall. Darts intended to tranquilize Okja are instead stopped by umbrellas. A public announcement ends in chaos, with people getting jostled and beaten. Someone is subdued with what's described as a "non-lethal chokehold."

[Spoiler Warning] Okja gets recaptured by Mirando and taken to a room where she's violently mated with a huge male super pig. (We don't see the act closely, but Okja is clearly terrified and, later, seemingly scarred by the experience. Some members of the radical animal rights organization, watching via secret camera, beg for the camera to be turned off.) Afterward, someone tests Okja's meat-fat "marbling." He warns her it'll hurt, saying he'll sample meat from five parts of her body. (Later, those samples get served to humans, who unanimously declare the meat particularly tasty.) Okja and other super pigs eventually end up in a slaughter facility. The animals are electrically shocked on their way up a ramp to be slaughtered and processed. There, Mija (and we) sees carcasses of butchered pigs and meat being processed. Mija watches a worker kill a pig—pointing a bolt gun to the creature's forehead and pulling the trigger. The lifeless animal is rolled onto a conveyor belt. Blood covers the plant's floors and stains workers white aprons.

Crude or Profane Language

Nearly 30 f-words and six s-words. We also hear "a--," "b--ch," "d--n" and "h---." God's name is misused about half a dozen times (once with "d--n"), and Jesus' name is abused once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Lucy Mirando and her twin sister, Nancy, both smoke. Another man is shown lighting a cigarette, too.

Mija's grandfather has bottles of soju, a Korean alcoholic beverage, stashed underneath his floorboards. When Doctor Johnny (a one-time television celebrity who now serves as Mirando's public face) staggers up to the family's mountain farm, he snaps up a bottle (likely not knowing what it is) and begins guzzling it. Later, Doctor Johnny gets drunk, perhaps again on soju. He staggers around and makes some extremely poor decisions while intoxicated.

Other Negative Elements

Okja apparently needs Mija to pat her rear when she defecates. We see little pebbles of poo fly as Mija pats—once harmlessly into a lake, and once onto someone pursuing Okja. The animal also lets loose flatulence on occasion, too.

Doctor Johnny is amazed by the size of Okja's one mammary gland. We hear it referenced elsewhere and see it on occasion, as well.

Mija runs away from her grandfather to rescue Okja, smashing her own bank (a piggy bank?) and scraping coins off the floor as her grandfather tries to stop her. She even pushes the old man down and away.

Jay wants to use Okja to infiltrate Mirando's food operation. But he promises Mija—through a Korean interpreter—that they won't go forward with their plan without Mija's consent. Mija doesn't give that consent, asking instead to be taken back to the mountains. But the interpreter lies and says she agreed to the plan.

Mirando's test facility features many super pigs that don't look particularly super. We learn that these pigs were not born naturally (as Lucy says), but were instead created in the lab as genetically modified creatures. Lucy owns up to the fabrication in private, lamenting the "white lies" the company must tell to make the super pigs palatable to the masses.

Okja snorts on Doctor Johnny, coating him in mucus.

Conclusion

Okja, like its titular pig, is a strange beast.

On one hand, it looks like a TV show. It's distributed by Netflix, after all, and it's available on that streaming service with a television "TV-MA" rating (basically the equivalent of an R rating).

But Netflix also released the movie in a handful of theaters, apparently gearing up for a possible awards-season run. It's a model that Netflix has used in the past, but in many sectors, movie-television hybrids like this are still controversial. Unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival, the film was initially booed by the traditional French crowd, where simultaneous video and theatrical releases are particularly scorned.

Frankly, I agree with the French. Not necessarily in booing Okja—that seems rude—but it would've been nice had Okja opened in theaters before its life on television screens began. There, it would've been fairly branded with an R-rating, giving parents a proper warning regarding the kind of content that the film contains. When it simply shows up in one's Netflix cue with its adorable pictures of a girl and her giant hippo-pig, parents and children alike might well click "play"—unaware that what might seem like be a light children's fable takes some very dark turns indeed.

This is not to say that the movie isn't effective. It is. But Okja's story is far more grim and way more graphic than anything we'd see in Charlotte's Web. Forget this film's quart-size protagonist and her whimsical pet pig. Okja is a jarring, unsettling and often difficult-to-watch story, filled with death, blood, profanity and a clear agenda critiquing genetically modified food.

Okja, the big pig, is as gentle as they come. Her namesake movie is anything but. It reminds me of something my father once told me about the pigs he used to feed as a terrified little boy: They're not as friendly as they look.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

NR

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija; Tilda Swinton as Lucy/Nancy Mirando; Jake Gyllenhaal as Johnny Wilcox; Hee-Bong Byun as Hee Bong; Paul Dano as Jay; Steven Yeun as K; Lily Collins as Red; Devon Bostick as Silver; Deniel Henshall as Blond; Je-Mun Yun as Mundo; Giancarlo Esposito as Frank Dawson

Director

Joon-ho Bong ( )

Distributor

Netflix

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

June 28, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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