Love & Slaughter — Bong Joon-ho’s Okja

When we talk about animals in movies, there are usually two images that come to mind: a best friend, like My Dog Skip or Marley and Me, and a dangerous predator à la Jaws. Our fictional images of them reflect our relationships with them. They are our companions or our aggressors. They are our downfall or our victims.

In the case of Okja, they fall into the latter category.

Bong Joon-ho’s latest is a strange fable of animal companionship. Babe but set in a world on the brink of rule by Orwellian-esque conglomerates. But instead of being separate from reality, Okja is based on a premise terribly close to where we find ourselves now: searching for a way to feed a booming population while reducing our carbon footprint on the planet. The solution? Genetically-modified organisms. A multi-national chemical company called Mirando Corporation has created the answer to everyone’s prayers: giant mammals called superpigs that are cute, leave minimal carbon footprint, and will apparently taste delicious once they reach full growth and are harvested for their meat. Coinciding with the announcement of this miracle pig, the Mirando Corporation also beings a ten-year contest, where farmers around the world will raise 23 of the babies to determine one winner as the best superpig.

One farmer in South Korea is given a superpig. The superpig is given the name Okja and grows up with a girl named Mija.

Okja and Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn). Photo source.

The majority of the movie revolves around Mija’s quest to save Okja from the Mirando Corporation, but along the way Bong delivers so much satire that you could pick and choose where you want to read it. Biting social commentary is a bit a signature for Bong. We also saw it in the fantastic post-apocalyptic film Snowpiercer, in which a class system emerges on a train driving non-stop around a frozen earth. In Okja, the first target is companies such as the Mirando Corporation, who create gimmicky campaigns and contests to detract from the harm their company may actually cause. The second target is us, people who cry fear of GMOs but are able to shut down those concerns for delicious, questionably sourced food constantly. The parallels are undeniable, especially since Okja doesn’t take place in a vague future like Snowpiercer does. It is set in today. Literally now, in 2017, and while the conditions Okja is placed in the movie are purposefully manipulated to draw maximum sympathy, the similarities between the conditions in Okja and those within our current factory farming cannot be denied.

Tilda Swinton as Lucy Mirando and Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija. Photo source.

We get to know Okja. The huge mammal is, in a word, odd and, in another, adorable. Within the first few minutes of the film you’re able to get over the fact you’re seeing a giant, CGI, hippo-pig hybrid-thing on your small laptop screen. After that, you love her. Okja’s animation is stunning. Every movement she makes, every twitch and blink, is placed with such precision and detail. It seems as though some of her mannerisms are dog-like, while her eyes express human-like intelligence and emotion. It’s easy to get attached, both to her and Mija, played by the outstanding Seo-Hyun Ahn.

Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija. Photo source

While Okja the animal is marvellous, Seo-Hyun Ahn is the true star of the show. She gives a performance that, in my opinion, is more notable than Tilda Swinton’s turn as the high-strung CEO of Mirando Corporation, or Jake Gyllenhaal’s as a boozy, washed-up nature show host. I could watch a two-hour film of just Mija and Okja in the South Korean mountains without a problem. Bong takes his time in the Korea sequences, making use of the gorgeous landscape. These shots are languid and soft, but as soon as the story moves to Seoul and New York, the cinematography takes on the same frenetic pace as the plot. Bong makes use of everything within a scene: from a young woman taking a selfie while a giant pig is chased through a mall to the employees in a corporate office being totally duplicitous but also blindly faithful. The potential for satire is enormous and Bong gladly delivers.

Okja is a surprising movie in a number of ways. There are shocking moments of violence and cruelty, gleefully dry and dark humour, and a conclusion in which no one turns out to be “the good guys” except Mija and Okja. There is a clear divide between “them” (Mirando) and “us” (Mija and the Animal Liberation Front), but the animal rights activists don’t emerge entirely unscathed either, with moments of hypocrisy, deceit, and self-righteousness within the group. Mija and Okja are the true heroes of the story and to the audience, the most redeemable characters. There’s a possible reading into that, the idea that only animals and children are safe from the inevitable selfishness and violence that plague humanity.

Mija and Okja. Photo source.

Okja is full of meaning and criticism. It makes judgements on our current ways of life and questions how we got to this point of resource depletion, the ethics of factory farming where animals are put under conditions that are terrible at best. Okja doesn’t offer any answers or solutions, but it makes you think and that in and of itself is an achievement. It’ll entertain you, just like any movie should and needs to in order to be seen. That being said, once you turn on Okja, it’s hard to turn it off, and it’s hard to forget both the giant superpig and everything she represents.

Continue following our arts & culture and lifestyle coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Whom would you invite to a dinner party?

Art work by Michelle Cheung for Novella Magazine

You’re having a dinner party or you’re invited to one or you’re just at the right place at the right time and a perfunctory dinner extends into a leisurely span of sitting and talking or into a bass-heavy dancing and occasional nibbling: Whom — I think whom is right — would you want to be with? Yes, yes, family, friends, partners, etc. But fantasize a little. Which celebrity, writer, director, president? I’m sure everyone’s at one point imagined having dinner — and post-dinner activities that may lead to breakfast — with their middle school celebrity crushes. Even now, you only need a bit of prompt to fall into that rabbit hole of fantasy. Here are Novella’s choices.

Kimberley, Contributor

It’s not a hard answer really — who would you want to spend a leisurely evening with, basked in moonlight and the flickering of a single candle on your beautifully decorated table? For me, it would be a literal dream, (and I’m saying this literally because I have had this dream many times) to spend an evening, sharing a meal with Frank Ocean. Ever since 2011, when Frank dropped his first mixtape, Nostalgia Ultra, I immediately became a super fan. Who wouldn’t want to know what goes on in his mind? The opportunity to spend a night, picking his brain — or listening to anything he would want to say — is something that I wouldn’t be able to pass up on. Frank’s lyrics are beautifully written, and combined with the soft velvet of his voice, he creates an aura of mystery that one can’t help wanting to unravel.

Adina Heisler, Contributor

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ve become a cable news junkie. I used to be totally uninterested in it (back in the more innocent time of two years ago), but that was before we entered the upside-down of politics and “covfefe”. I’ll be the first to admit they can get a little sensational and sometimes spend more time debating tweets or obvious facts, but when you cut out the noise and the partisan-ness, you can find some actual journalism. So I’d invite Jake Tapper (I’m just a tiny bit obsessed with him), Chris HayesRachel MaddowLester Holt, and Anderson Cooper. I’d probably be a little too intimidated to say much, but honestly I’d be happy enough just to listen to the five of them talk. If I did ever pluck up the courage to talk to them, I’d probably ask if they could give me some advice or encouragement to me, since I’m hoping to be a journalist some day.

Drew Brown, Editor-in Chief 

Besides great food, dinner conversation is key, so having the right mix of people at a dinner party can make or break your event. I have been in love with Grace Jones since she first asked us to pull up to her bumper. After reading her book I’ll never write my Memoirs, my love for Grace Jones grew even more. Not only would she have plenty of stories to tell, but I might be able to convince her to sing after a few bottles of wine.

I would also add Diane von Furstenberg, who I think is the epitome of style and grace. Diane would also have great stories about her life, fashion, and, of course, Studio 54. Both Titus Burgess and Andre Leon Tally would have all of us in stitches, and I would love to pick the brain of Grace Coddington, whom I adore.

Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Sade. Photo source.

It has been a long-standing dream of mine to host a dinner party with famous folks in attendance, so you can bet I’ve given this some thought before. To start with, I’d need to invite my ladies Georgia O’Keefe  and Frida Kahlo. Both were fantastically talented artists and fiercely independent women. I would love the opportunity just to hear them speak and share ideas. Obviously I would need to invite Jane Birkin simply because she’s everything and I’ve got a feeling she would know which wine to bring. There’s no way I wouldn’t invite Trevor Noah who 1) I love and 2) is absolutely brilliant. My final, and very coveted, invitation would probably have to go to Sade Adu, an unbelievably beautiful and talented woman. Would this be the wildest dinner party? Probably not, but I think some fascinating conversations could come out of it.

Hoon, Managing Editor

Erika Weihs, Virginia Eggleston, Grace Paley, Molly Wilson, and Sybil Claiborne at the weekly Greenwich Village Peace Center vigil. Photo by Ruth Sondak, sourced from War Resisters League.

Party of five, Robert B. SilversElizabeth HardwickLore SegalGrace Paley, and yours truly, at hardwood tables and comfortable booth kind of a bistro, well lit enough to read the menu but dim enough to be unselfconscious. Talk about politics and books with plates of porterhouse, salad, and cheese going cold and limp late into the night. Talk about food. Talk about sex and New Jersey. Talk about gentrification. Talk about newspapers. Talk about music and movies. Talk about Hollywood. Grace (Paley) might want to make posters. I might need Kleenex from tears. Elizabeth (Hardwick) might want another glass of wine. Robert (B. Silvers) might need a cigarette, might want to go out on a boat. Lore (Segal) might take notes. Talk about traveling. Talk shit about neighbors. Talk shit about writers. Talk shit about readers. The fun stuff. That’d be nice, getting to befriend some of my favorite writers and editors, all of them, except Lore (thank God), dead. They would still have things to say.

Claire Ball, Contributor

In all honesty, I have never thought about who I would invite to my dream dinner party before, so trying to make a decision and think about this question was difficult for me. My invitees are fairly predictable, especially if you know me, and not very under the radar. Let’s just say my dinner party would very much be a ridiculous A-list affair. To start, I think I would absolutely have to invite my number one crushes, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jake Gyllenhaal. I think Jennifer and Jake would both be super cool, down to earth people to have at a dinner party. I think they’re great actors. I also find Jennifer hilarious because we share the same sense of humour. She is basically my spirit animal.

I would also invite Chelsea Handler because I love how brash and honest she is about everything she talks about, and Ellen Degeneres (I don’t feel the need to explain why). I am also a not-so-low-key Harry Styles fan so I would obviously have to throw him an invite and, ideally, the cast of Game of Thrones would be fun.

Chris Zaghi, Fashion Editor

From left to right: Her Majesty, The Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, Leigh Bowery, Naomi Campbell, The Divine David, and Isabela Blow

Just try to imagine this scenario with me: A majestic set of wrought iron gates open up to a winding gravel road; the driveway is lined with nothing but cherry blossom trees; the wind blows them past your car as you drive up to a gorgeous manor tucked away amidst giant oaks and elms; the staircase leading up to the entrance seems to get longer and higher as you walk up; the doors lead to a gilded hallway covered in portraits of royalty; you come to a set of large mirrored doors and the doors swing open and reveal a beautiful room, gold leafing on the walls, pastel pinks and blues are woven throughout, Baccarat crystal chandeliers bathe it in light; as your eyes focus, you notice a beautiful round antique mirror table with 6 people sitting around it; there are cakes and pastries scattered across its surface, champagne bottles pop in a continuous rhythm; the riotous laughing and cheering is almost contagious, but you dare not interrupt the party you’ve just stumbled into. You focus on the guests. You quickly notice me, proposing a toast to my 5 extraordinary guests. Beside me, Marie Antoinette yells “Let us eat cake!” as she stuffs a kiwi tart in her mouth. Across from her, Naomi Campbell calmly says “I can tell you’ve had your fair share already.” And the table bursts into laughter. Beside her, Isabella Blow sends a text message to her pal McQueen — “you‘re missing out darling!” while Leigh Bowery does his best impression of Sasha Velour’s “art-drag” shtick. The room once again breaks into laughter, but something catches the Divine Davids eye. He tilts his head in confusion and says “Well, that’s not very lovely…” We all turn to look at you, standing there, silently watching this marvelous kiki unfold. Congratulations. You’ve just ruined our night.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.