Okja is being deemed Netflix’s first big movie. The Bong Joon-ho film features a young farm girl trying to go against the odds and reclaim her best friend pig named Okja. The film does a daring job and succeeds at capturing the hearts of animal-lovers as well as promoting a message on livestock treatment. While a film featuring a larger than life pig creature doesn’t seem to be the most realistic or reality grounded movie, truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction. Okja while a touching fictional story, holds a lot of truth behind it, so after researching a bit, here are some things to know about how Okja pertains to the real world.
The Mirando Corporation
The fictional corrupt Mirando Corporation would appear to be a thinly veiled reference to the real-life agriculture giant Monsanto. I think this is clearly recognizable as not only are the names baring a resemblance but both the fictional Mirando Corporation has an undeniably similar logo consisting of a thin green font with a leafy/tree symbol on the right.
While the fictional company of Mirando is depicted as this powerful, deceptive, evil corporation the real-life Monsanto has a reputation of being a powerful, deceptive, and evil corporation. As it currently stands, Monsanto is the largest influence over modern agriculture and has gained this status through evolving with the times. Monsanto has been around since it was founded in 1901 in which its origins began as a chemical company. Monsanto began as a company that produced agent orange as well as DDT. Monsanto was connected to agriculture only as a complementary product in numerous types of pesticides. After Rachel Carson released Silent Spring and other activists started to expose the harmful effects of these pesticides as well as other controversies stirring had eventually buried Monsanto but only momentarily.
Then Monsanto re-invented itself and through a new outlook began to invest in the future of agriculture.
“[Monsanto] bought up seed companies, invested in bio genetics research, and ultimately reincorporated itself as an agricultural company. Its first GMO product, the patented Glyphosate-resistant, “Round-Up Ready” soybean, was approved by the USDA in 1994”
As of 2013, Monsanto owned up to 1,676 seed, plants, and other patents. These patents not only allowed Monsanto to regain a market for pesticides as plants were now more genetically immune to the damages but also created a new empire for themselves. With the combined efforts of controlling the market through the necessity of seeds as well as advancing agriculture through genetically modified crops that are resistant to pesticides, organisms, and grew larger in size has Monsanto hands been all over the market. The ultimate debate on Monsanto and its practices are perfectly summed up as follows.
“Beneath all this is a fundamental disagreement about technology. At one end you have the… position, which suggests our innovations are hurting more then helping us. At the other end are the technological utopians who see restraints on innovation as intolerably prolonging the suffering that would end in a more perfect future.”
No matter what side of the spectrum you land on, Okja certainly attempts to portray the powerhouse in a negative light. I wondered if the films constant mentioning of the Father, and the former CEO was alluding to anyone special. In the film, the current Mirando CEO Lucy and her sister Nancy speak very poorly of their father calling him a “terrible man” and other unkind remarks. The current CEO of Monsanto is Hugh Grant who has served a 35-year tenure and has received many accolades in the business world. There’s no mention whether Grant has his own daughters and neither he nor did the founder of the company match the description of the former CEO in the movie. While Tilda Swinton’s character and the Mirando family is certainly throwing some shade at the CEO and those who run the company it doesn’t necessarily seem that this is attacking or referencing a particular person of theirs. However, whether this was the intent of all a board or just Swinton’s take on the character, Swinton admits to recognizing Ivanka Trump in exhibiting similarities of her character.
“I was standing in costume, watching her (on TV) at the Republican (National) Convention in a very similar look like, ‘Oh, we’re doing the same thing…She wasn’t exactly an inspiration — she was more of a nightmare realization.” – Tilda Swinton
While this is what Swinton recognized there is no conformation Director Bong Joon-ho or any of the writers had intended it to be this way. Still it is interesting how there are many angles to interpret this film back to the real life events and people that exist.
Okja Not the Only Super Pig
In the film’s universe, Okja is an impressive new species of genetically modified super pig. Okja almost amasses the size of a small elephant or large hippo. While Monsanto hasn’t been genetically modifying large pigs for consumption, in the bizarre world you’re living in there has been some massive pigs on the record. While not explicitly mentioned it could be possible that Okja could be based on a real pig. The Liaoning Provincial Agricultural Museum have themselves a deceased pig that weighted 900 kg. This pig, just like Okja apparently, in that there was no secret recipe but rather just the freak result of “a good built sty and gave it quality food all its life”. Even in the photograph (depicted above) is the pig resembling the titular character as it’s a light gray coloring, with floppy ears and a ribbon around it that matches the one of Okja’s best super pig competition. While Okja possessed a supernatural athleticism, and speed this pig did not. The real pig allegedly died after 5 years allegedly due to lack of exercise. The unearthly size prompted the museum to campaign the pig to be featured in the Guinness world record book. However, it was revealed that there is reportedly a larger pig. The true world record holder earned the title back in 1933, and coined the name as Big Bill. The enormous hog, recorded in as:
“Big Bill, the largest hog ever recorded at 2,552 lb (1,157 kg)”
Big Bill weighted only a couple hundred pounds shy of your average female hippopotamus. I highly doubt these monstrous pigs were leaving a minimal footprint on the environment, yet I do think this is evidence how truth sometimes really is stranger than fiction.
The Golden Pig
In the film Mija is presented by her grandfather a golden pig as a gift from her late parents. This pig is told to be a traditional wedding gift in South Korea. While not to spoil anything the pig does sort of serve the story so is there any truth to this pig gift tradition or is it just introducing a Chekov’s Gun prop. From what I was able to research, nothing came to clearly display this to be more than a plot point in the movie. While I couldn’t find any reference to a golden pig as a traditional wedding gift, that does not mean it doesn’t hold cultural significance. In the Chinese zodiac, a pig is one of the featured animals but also, in a rare year does it come to be the year of the golden pig. If you are looking to celebrate the year of the golden pig, then you’re kind of out of luck as this occurred in 2007 and the golden year occurs every 600 years.A Golden Pig year represents a baby born this year will be considerable rich and prosperous. The Chinese Zodiac is not exclusive to just China as South Korea where Mija in Okja is from, seems to be more enthusiastic about a golden pig year.
“This legend is so popular, that Korea is expected to have a 10 percent increase in birthrate this year…The marketing is already in full swing. Golden Pig items are on sale everywhere. A lot of companies are using them as promotional items.”
Maybe not exactly what the film tells us but it’s possible that Mija’s parent had gotten married during the year of the golden pig or possibly even given birth to Mija. While I do think the film is set in a not so distant future, the year 20XX to say, oddly enough on the IMDb synopsis states how Mija has been taking care of Okja for ten years. Which of course, ten years ago from the film’s release was 2007, the year of the golden pig.
Unfortunately, not referring to the cat eating alien Muppet, the film features a group of people known as the ALF. The ALF features Paul Dano alongside Glenn from The Walking Dead, My Rodrick, alongside others who work in rescuing Okja and taking down the evil acts of the Mirando corporation. If Mirando is a safe bet to be Monsanto then the ALF is probably just a cover-up for the famous or infamous depending how you feel about it PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). While this is not a bad assumption, the ALF or the Animal Liberation Front is an actual thing. The ALF does exactly what they do in this film, take action in attempt to expose the injustice of animal abuse. On their website that appears not to have been updated in a while, provides the following Mission Statement:
The ALF Mission Statement: To effectively allocate resources (time and money) to end the “property” status of nonhuman animals.
The Objective of the Mission: To abolish institutionalized animal exploitation because it assumes that animals are property.
ALF, ski masks and all are depicted well and seems to be raising awareness of their presence on global animal rights.
The Real Cowspiracy
Okja has been having a positive response and has caused people claiming to make a change in their diet to a more vegan lifestyle. While I for one certainly enjoyed the film, is it reasonable to be concerned that this might be fictionalizing a real problem. Film can very much feel realistic but at the same time, there’s an understanding that this disconnects from reality, especially when there’s a giant hippo pig on the screen. I feel audiences grew emotionally attached to this giant pig, but might not translate into caring about an actually creature like a cow, or a chicken, or a normal-sized pig. The film is great for getting the ball rolling and getting people to start thinking about how agriculture and livestock work but at the same time might be similar to The Lorax which hyperbolizes the problem at hand ultimately diminishing it to a sense of fiction. As I said it gets the ball rolling and in saying that if you are more concerned about the inter-working of how things appear on your plate, there are plenty of wonderful documentaries for that. Personally, I’ve seen Cowspiracy and it features highly esteemed perspectives on the matter and give a digging insight into the system. On the website, it’s described as:
“As eye-opening as Blackfish and as inspiring as An Inconvenient Truth, this shocking yet humorous documentary reveals the absolutely devastating environmental impact large-scale factory farming has on our planet, and offers a path to global sustainability for a growing population.”
If you want to further understand the reality of Okja I would recommend checking this out. Other films on the subject include: Food Inc. (2008), The Future of Food (2004), and The World According to Monsanto (2008). However, documentaries can also present a warped version of reality to the point where it could even be more fictional than Okja. Whether Okja is enough to open your eyes a bit or you want to know more about what exactly goes on these documentaries share the same message as Okja while also grounded in the world we live in.
Okja is a sensational movie, and instead of providing just another review explaining that to you, I think it’s important to maybe not go full vegan, or join the ALF immediately but instead just be aware of the world out there. If you haven’t seen it, feel free to check it out and if you have maybe I’ve given you a new perspective of how to look at the things in the film. Think I missed anything, let me know with a comment. Okja is at its center a nice tale of a young girl and her animal companion that can be appreciated by audiences everywhere.
- Most images featured are from Okja [credit: Netflix]
- The Monsanto logo image [credit: Enriquehdz75] while the logo is owned by Monsanto.
- Giant Pig Image: [credit: Stunning Stuff.com
- Lessley Anderson. Why Does Everyone Hate Monsanto? Modernfarmer.com
- Zack Kaldveer. U.S. and Monsanto Dominate Global Market for GM Seeds. Organic Consumers Association.
- Britt Towery. Golden Pig Means Prosperity, Good Fortune. EthicsDaily.com
- About Poland China Pigs. Livestock Of The World.com
- Bas van Rijn 900kg Pig Battles ‘Big Bill’ for World Record. Stunning-stuff.com
- Animal Liberation Front.com
- Patrick Ryan. 5 Secrets behind ‘Okja’, Netflix’s craziest movie yet. USA TODAY