There are movies that make you think and feel. Then there's Okja, Netflix's new movie directed by Bong Joon Ho (2013's Snowpiercer and 2006's The Host), that will make you question your place in the world and everything you know about it.
At the center of Okja is the love story of Mija (played by the amazing Ahn Seo Hyun) and genetically-modified super pig Okja whom she raised for 10 years. Unknown to Mija, her best friend was "made" for consumption by Mirando Corporation. Now, they're taking her back to New York to slaughter her and the rest of her kind. Mija, of course, won't let this happen. She goes on an intense journey to save Okja from her death and bring her back to their home in the mountains of South Korea.
Along the way, Mija's eyes are opened to a thousand and one things that accompany her simple dream of saving her best friend. She not only meets and deals with Mirando Corporation leader Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) and her entire corporate crew, Mija also ends up fighting alongside the animal rights group, Animal Liberation Front (Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Daniel Henshall, and Devon Bostick), who vows to help her save Okja.
The members of the Animal Liberation Front in Okja: Devon Bostick, Paul Dano, Daniel Henshall, Lily Collins, and Steven Yeun
Okja, obviously, tackles animal rights. We are shown what these creatures we see on our plates go through before they become the food we eat to live. There are several harrowing scenes in the movie that will, like Director Bong went through, make you "not eat meat" for a while because they're overwhelming.
One scene that will surely stick to audiences is when Mija arrives at the location where they're keeping Okja and her kind, which is very reminiscent of scenes from the Holocaust movies, as the super pigs are enclosed in wired fences and are then brought to line up to the slaughterhouse where they meet their end.
"It was quite intentional, the wire and fans—very like the Holocaust, the second World War concentration camps. That's what [I] was going for," Director Bong tells us during our roundtable interview with him. "For us humans, we just consider them food. But for animals, that's what they face in their everyday lives. In their perspective, they go through that every day."
Director Bong Joon Ho at the red carpet premiere of Okja in Seoul, South Korea
For this sequence, he said, they visited a "beef plant" in Colorado, where he witnessed the condition of the animals we were meant to consume. These images "forcibly converted [me] into veganism." However, Director Bong emphasized that he's not at all against eating meat because, just like Mija who enjoys chicken stew in Okja, he also enjoys eating meat.
What he wants us to think about, though, is the way we treat animals "in this capitalistic factory system, slaughtering animals in this fashion and treating them this way. We do have to take time and be conscious and think about what's going on."
Nowadays, we're all too busy to know the origin of the food we're eating. We're all too caught up in our own worlds and our own concerns that we forget that there are lives around us, too. That aside from us, human beings, there are lives on this planet that's as important as ours.
Director Bong Joon Ho, Tilda Swinton, Ahn Seo Hyun, Steven Yeun, Giancarlo Esposito, Daniel Henshall, Byun Hee Bong, and Choi Woo Shik at Okja's red carpet premiere in Seoul, South Korea
Giancarlo Esposito, who plays one of Mirando Corporation's execs Frank Dawson, perfectly summarizes what we all need to see and take away from Okja.
"We've become so disconnected from [animals]... This film questions all of our integrity, doesn't it? Would we actually go home, look at our dog, and grill him up? We wouldn't really think about that, right? So this particular animal in our film is not quite as cuddly as a little poodle, but look at those eyes! Look at the love that she shares with her little girl! And yet we wanna butcher her up to have [on] our dinner table."
He then went on and described that the connection between Mija and Okja is a love story we need to see to reconnect us with the lives around us—not only to human lives but even to those that are different from us because they're living things who have feelings, too.
Director Bong Joon Ho with the film's stars, Tilda Swinton and Ahn Seo Hyun, at Okja's red carpet premiere in Seoul, South Korea
"Humanity is a big question in this film when we think about a slaughterhouse. We have those scenes in the film where all the pigs are going to their demise, and they see the pig in front of them [get gunned] in the head," he added. "What do you think that does to their being? I mean, there's a more humane way to do that... So all of that plays into our humanity."
But just like Director Bong, Giancarlo makes it clear that he's also not against eating meat. He even goes back to the practices of the American Indians. "[When] they have no food, the snow is up high, and there's an animal [to eat], they pray, 'Bless that animal.' That's their dinner and they do it [because] they respect that place," he said.
While animal rights is the obvious message from Okja, Tilda Swinton explained that it is not the only thing we will see in the movie because there are other topics connected to that.
"Those three strands, corporate greed, animal rights, and consumerism, it occurred to me that they are all about the same thing," she said "In examining those three areas [and] the infringements of those three areas, you're looking at a lack of respect between beings... I think all those strings, it's like they're all balloons. The thing that's anchoring them all is this question of 'respect or lack of respect?'—for other beings, human or otherwise."
Okja will, no doubt, reconnect you to the world and everything (and everyone) that lives in it. It will question your humanity and the values that you hold dear. It will question what you believe in. It mirrors what's going on in the world today. But more than these things, Okja will remind you about the only thing that matters and the only thing that might just save us all: respect—not only for our fellow human beings, but for everything that breathes and has life.
Okja is now available for streaming via Netflix.