'Okja' Just Might Convince You to Go Vegetarian

"Own your lifestyle choices and own your positions. If you’re going to eat meat, this is what happens in the slaughterhouse," say co-writer Jon Ronson.
Courtesy of Netflix

The creative team behind Okja insists it didn't set out to convert an entire generation to vegetarianism — but it just might have that effect.

The film, from director Bong Joon-Ho, centers on a girl Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her friendship with her genetically modified "super piglet" Okja, a kind animal who seems to have characteristics of a hippopotamus, pig and lovable pet dog. Mija must rescue her beloved best friend when the Mirando corporation (led by Tilda Swinton's Lucy Mirando) reclaims Okja as the intellectual property and food product she ultimately is.

Okja, streaming on Netflix beginning Wednesday, asks hard questions without telling audiences how to feel about the answers — though it's likely to make you feel uncomfortable.

"I think the movie will turn people vegetarian," co-writer Jon Ronson tells Heat Vision. "I think there’s a whole load of 16-year-olds who don’t realize where their food comes from or don’t realize that within five weeks time they’re going to be vegetarian. I think that is going to happen. But I really don’t think that was my intention or Bong’s intention."

The project, which made a splash when it premiered at Cannes last month, comes at a time when corporations have more sway over the things we consume than ever — whether it be media or even food. In a world where labels like "organic" and "non-GMO" are just as buzzy as "climate change" and "carbon footprint," the food we eat is looked at as more than just sustenance — it’s becoming a very important factor for the future of the human race.

The nuanced film doesn't paint Swinton's Mirando as a pure villain, and in a way, her cause is noble. Cattle and animal products produce huge carbon footprints, and in the world of Okja, the "Super piglets" not only "taste f—ing good!’” (as Swinton's character says), they are also a way to feed more people more efficiently — with less of an environmental impact.

"Lucy is trying to feed the planet. The animals keep trying to screw it up. The heroes aren’t entirely heroic and the villains aren’t entirely villainous," Ronson says.

You should also be prepared for scenes that starkly deal with topics like animal cruelty. Forced breeding, the inner workings of a slaughterhouse, and a highly disturbing scene that involves extracting flesh samples for a taste test are all moments within the film. In the end, these moments are a key part of the story, but they're hard to watch. It's fair to say that Okja isn't what one might consider family entertainment, no matter how adorable Okja may be. 

For Ronson, showing those consequences — and getting the audience to acknowledge them — was key.

“Own your lifestyle choices and own your positions. If you’re going to eat meat, this is what happens in the slaughterhouse. Don’t trick yourself," says Ronson, who eats fish in his personal life. "I think that’s something you can take into life. If you’re going to bully somebody, don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re not bullying them. Understand your actions."

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