August 28, 2017

Okja: The Host as a Fairy Tale

If Bong Joon-ho's The Host was a cautionary monster movie then his Okja is a vegan's fairy tale. Where the first film showed a modern-day Godzilla accidentally created by indifferent, amoral scientists, the latter positions its genetically engineered super-pig as a kind of potential advancement (psychologically, not just meatily) undermined by the leaders of the profiteering industry who brought him — and his ill-fated siblings — into being. In both instances, humans are the ultimate villains and heroes. And in neither case is there any sort of responsibility being taken by those in charge.

Of the two, though, Okja is an immensely more hopeful movie, because despite the capitalist cruelty of Tilda Swinton's equally unlikable twin CEOs and a lying grandpa (Byun Hee-bong) who just wants to make a buck, there's also a PETA-style ANTIFA staffed by well-meaning animal rights activists who are technologically savvy and doggedly diligent even as they're used for comic relief in the larger story. As the leader of the Animal Liberation Front (a.k.a. ALF), Paul Dano is about a likable as he's ever been while Steven Yeun, as the ALF member who taints then rescues the pig-saving mission, makes a nice comeback after his many years on The Walking Dead.

But this movie really belongs to the young girl whose raised the pig: Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun). Much like Go Ah-sung in The Host before, Ahn is playing a complex young woman whose resourceful, determined, compassionate, and periodically overwhelmed. There's something beautiful in Bong's choice to have young heroines like this in such major movies. It's another reminder that the future may look bleak but maybe the next generation will save the day after all. Start praying.

P.S. Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as the self-pitying, whiney-voiced host for an internationally popular animal show has received quite a bit of criticism but my initial reaction was he took a big risk and good on him for that.

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