Okja, the latest movie produced by Netflix and directed by Bong Joon-Ho of Snowpiercer fame, tells the story of a giant pig and her best friend. For the past ten years, the “super-pig” Okja has grown up in the forested mountains of South Korea with her caretaker, a young girl named Mija. Life in the forest comes an abrupt halt when it is realized that Okja is actually the prized exhibit of Mirando, a multinational corporation, and its campaign to develop a new meat source. When representatives from Mirando come to take Okja away to Seoul and finally New York City, it is up to Mija to rescue her friend. Her journey is made more complex with the intervention of activists named the Animal Liberation Front. Together, they weave a moving tale of friendship, corporate greed, consumer ethics, and activism that is sure to change the way people look at their food.
When Okja was released, I knew I had to watch it. While there are many compelling vegan documentaries available on Netflix such as Cowspiracy, What the Health, and Forks Over Knives, Okja sets itself apart as the first vegan-inspired movie with big-budget appeal with its entertaining storytelling, frantic action, and character development. In Mija and Okja’s touching friendship, the film shows the sensitive and caring nature of animals and the genuine bond they can form with humans. Later, as the film takes us down the rabbit hole of factory farming, we see in visceral terms the brutal and inhumane practices inflicted on billions of animals daily.
For me, the highlight of this film was the depiction of the activists. When Okja and Mija are being pursued in an underground shopping mall by Mirando employees, we are introduced for the first time to the masked animal crusaders known as the ALF.
After a violent and harrowing pursuit, Okja crashes into a retail store like a literal elephant in a china shop and for a moment it seems like all is lost. Suddenly, the ALF members show up clad in black, and it’s not clear whether they mean good or ill–until Mija sees their leader Jay (Paul Dano) tenderly pulling a bloody shard from Okja’s foot as the rest of the ALF defend Okja using creative nonviolent tactics. As John Denver’s Annie’s Song plays in the background, we see the bruised and battered Mija softening as she starts to understand that she and Okja can take refuge amidst the strength and compassion of these gentle outlaws. As a vegan, this scene never fails to move me to tears. It reminds me of my own sacred vows to protect innocents and speak for the voiceless.
While the ending is a bit dark and cynical, it does reflect the cruel reality of animal agriculture and what happens to billions of Okjas around the world every year. In all, this is an eye-opening movie that is sure to shock, entertain, and move both vegans and nonvegans alike.