Okja is a Marmite film. Either you adore it, or you (like myself) find its wasted potential pretty disappointing. Highly anticipated by many and much-discussed, this film is dividing its viewers; aptly foreshadowed by both the boos and ovations it received at Cannes Film Festival, prior to its major release on Netflix in June.
Reminiscent of the human-beast relationships portrayed in Studio Ghibli films, Okja tells the tale of a girl, Mija, and her struggle to save her CGI pet ‘super-pig’ – a genetically modified creature who, as it turns out, has been bred solely for human consumption by the Mirando Corporation, headed by eccentric and dastardly CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton). Mija finds help in the form of animal-rights activist Jay (Paul Dano), the leader of the Animal Liberation Front.
From the very outset, Okja is drowned in confused pluralism. Lacking tonal consistency, it switches willy-nilly between sincerity, farcical humour, fast-paced action and disturbingly cruel violence. The film’s most frustrating element, however, is the disappointing performances from what should have been an outstanding cast; with modern greats such as Paul Dano and Tilda Swinton failing to impress. And, as much as it pains me to say it, Jake Gylenhaal’s over-acting is annoying, and at times enters into the realm of – admittedly disturbing – slapstick, which jars with the sincere and emotionally poignant realism founded in the relationship between Mija and Okja.
It’s definitely hard to imagine anyone mindlessly chomping down on a bacon sandwich after watching this film, as Okja and her fellow super-pigs – who are destined for the slaughter-house – are portrayed as super-sentient. However, the satirisation of animal rights activists in the film alongside this supposed anti-animal agriculture propaganda undermines and detracts from the potential sincerity of such a message.
Perhaps my disappointment was just rooted in unreasonable expectations of perfection. But, from the wave of mixed reviews currently being released, it looks like I’m not the only one who was left a little miffed.