Okja, the newest Netflix offering, is not the movie a lot of people claim it is. It’s a wild ride of a movie, alternately fun and harrowing, disturbing, lighthearted, and mysterious. What it definitely is not is a warmhearted movie about a girl and her pig, or a biting satire of contemporary society – although it’s both of these things sometimes.
The movie has a chase scene, a love scene, a dastardly female villain scene, a natural wonders scene, a cliff-hanging scene, an escape scene, and an all’s well that ends well scene. It has more than one of all of these, but that’s not the end of it. It has an escape by jumping off a bridge in the middle of the night scene, a walk out of prison a free man scene, a smash to bits the symbol of one’s oppression scene, a shopping-mall mayhem scene, and a life-defining moment of betrayal by the one person who should never betray you scene. In other words, all the movie cliches and commonplaces you could desire.
“Above all, it invokes Lost in Translation. Watch for this last one — it’s big.”
The movie invokes Old Yeller, Wall-E, Batman, The Professional, Hundred and One Dalmations, Star Trek, and Free Willy. But above all, it invokes Lost in Translation. Watch for this last one – it’s big. And speaking of things you should be watching for: be sure to sit patiently through the credits, because this movie has two endings — one for the kids (though this is definitely not a children’s movie), and one for the grownups. I cannot begin to describe the fun and sheer joy of the grown-up ending — so just be sure not to miss it.
The contrast between the two endings, in my view, speaks volumes about the filmmaker’s intent. But the main thread that holds the movie together, for me, is nothing more than its crazy momentum: headlong into madness, seeking peace along the road to chaos, but mostly just witty and charming along the way, and so very knowledgeable about those movie conventions. We take delight in the animation because it’s clever, but as many cuddly scenes as there are between the charming 14-year-old protagonist and her beast, I never really warmed to this relationship. Her grandfather – in many ways the real archvillain of the tale – at one point comments, “I don’t like you playing with that pig all day. You should go meet a boy.” Wise words.
“This could be the antithesis of a children’s movie, evident early on in the first F-bomb that escapes Tilda Swinton’s lips.”
This could be, in fact, the antithesis of a children’s movie, evident early on in the first F-bomb that escapes Tilda Swinton’s lips. The satirical elements, which other reviewers have emphasized, are definitely there, but fleeting. My favorite is the brat-pack feel of the ALF – the Animal Liberation Front – who are the ostensible white-hats of the story, but who suggest all the ambivalence and imperfection of the philosophy, as anyone who’s tried to live a vegan lifestyle well knows. It’s more fun than it should be.
Most of all, it’s just a movie that loves movies, and all the conventions, tropes, and cliches of movies. Filmmaking is arguably the most self-referential, solipsistic art form of them all – therein lies the real charm of Okja.