Okja film review: Bon Joon-Ho’s take on speciesism and why the film intrigues me

Okja is a Netflix film sensation that takes speciesism to new heights. Bon Joon-Ho, the director, originally created the idea to address the problematic issues regarding animals in film. In an interview for The Guardian, Bon Joon-Ho says, “Films either show animals as soulmates or else we see them in documentaries being butchered. I wanted to merge those worlds. The division makes us comfortable but the reality is that they are the same animal.” He certainly does an excellent job in addressing speciesism in the world. The film revolves around Mija and her companion Okja, and her struggle to get Okja back from a multinational corporation who wants Okja for their new “eco-friendly” campaign. The story is highly emotional and heart-wrenching, and I am still struggling with my emotions from watching the film.

Bon Joon-Ho isn’t afraid to blend dark realities with blatant humor in the film, which makes the movie so amusing. Mija and Okja are arguably the two only sane figures with sane perspectives in the movie. Lucy Mirando’s corporate persona, a cheery figure that claims to be a philanthropist for the environment, is so overly exaggerated it blurs fiction and reality. Her enthusiastic demeanor and meme-like presentation of the Mirando corporation is so exaggerated that it’s comical. Johnny is an alcoholic scientist who is desperate for money, and will do anything to get paid. The Animal Liberation Front are passionate about animal rights, yet funnily over-apologetic and stereotypically portrayed that they made me laugh. However, there is still a foreboding notion of violence and brutal realities you don’t really pick up in the beginning of the movie.

Despite the funny and cheerful personas, there is the grim fact that animal abuse and cruelty are being performed in the Mirando Corporation factory. The superpigs and other animals are treated as commodities: products for their new line of “healthy” and “happy” meats. This is what makes the movie so eerily scary: it illustrates so realistically what is happening in our carnistic society. Nancy and Lucy both embody corporate perspectives that animals are only meant for business, which is comparable to how corporations are advertising meat and dairy products to the wider public through mass media. Video footage from the Animal Liberation Front reflect videos and images taken from undercover investigations done today. I love how Bon Joon-ho depicts the stark realities of the meat and dairy industry in his film, and asking viewers to rethink their choices in eating meat and passively participating in violence. While some of his antics and visuals were highly saturated with satirical humor, I appreciate his message and the moral he is trying to tell in his dark fairy tale.

I wasn’t shocked at the violence depicted by the Mirando Corporation. This type of animal cruelty isn’t new to me, probably because I have read about and watched videos of footage from factory farms. I was, however, emotionally moved from the movie. The visuals, storytelling, and plotline are amazingly well done. I was extremely invested in Mija’s relationship with Okja, and Okja’s love and admiration for this young girl. I was crushed when Okja was taken away, and angry when Mija’s grandfather suggested that Okja is only a pig and nothing more. I was revolted at Lucy Mirando’s and Johnny’s commodification of animals. I was left with a sense of also empowerment through my heightened determination to become vegetarian and sparking conversations about speciesism and animal rights to my friends. That is, ultimately, doing Bon Joon-Ho’s movie and the animal rights movement justice.

What If..? A Review of Shape of Water

Warning: this is not a spoiler-free review. Read at your own risk. 

Western contemporary culture is filled with binaries: human vs animal, good vs evil, etc. The truth is, reality is more convoluted than that and our world is filled with gray. What if I told you there’s no such thing as a dichotomy of good vs evil? What if I told you humans and animals can live in perfect harmony, and that we don’t have to exploit non-human species as commodities and convenience? Shape of Water challenges these binaries in an artistic way, looking at politics, science, and speciesism in a fictional lens while telling a compelling story between five protagonists.

Shape of Water is a wonderful film, and I’m really glad that it got nominated for several Oscars. Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece tells (arguably) 5 different stories in one motion picture, but all the protagonists can be connected by their loneliness. Each character has a tragic, yet beautiful, story that connects them to one another, yet their emotions and experiences are distinct and can be told as a separate story. With beautiful music, aesthetics, and storytelling, Guillermo del Toro manages to string together these separate experiences into one beautiful love story with very detailed world building.

The beauty of Shape of Water doesn’t just lie in its wonderful story structure or cinematic aesthetic. The movie isn’t afraid to challenge our comfort zones and our ideologies (what we perceive as “normal”). Eliza’s and Amphibian Man’s friendship and eventual romance is designed to push our limits and question our perception of the normal and abnormal. The film challenges ethical issues: when is it okay to use non-humans for experiments and when is it okay to call out authorities for their wrongdoings? Guillermo also challenges speciesism by designing a character that can think, move, and talk like a human; the only difference is their physical appearance and structure. If humanity and the “human essence” are characterised by rational thought and language, does that make Amphibian Man human? Why do we blur this line when it comes to non-human animals, who are sentient as announced in the Declaration of Consciousness? Is using non-human animals for science and bettering the human race ever justified?

While Shape of Water can be characterised as romance, Guillermo isn’t afraid to show raw (and often grizzly) scenes. Sex is normal very explicit. Violence isn’t censored. It’s these kinds of raw and unfiltered scenes that captures my attention. It’s liberating, in a sense, to be able to see these kinds of images on the silver screen.

Every good movie, however, isn’t devoid of criticism. There are scenes that seem out of place and unnecessary. One scene that comes to mind is the part when Richard calls Eliza in to clean up a puddle of water, only to sexually harass her seconds later. It’s a disturbing scene that can be left out entirely: we all know Richard is the antagonist, and even though this scene recognises Richard’s disgusting behaviour, it didn’t add to the plot whatsoever. The part where Eliza lipsyncs to portray her love for Amphibian Man was extremely awkward and out of place. I didn’t know how to put my finger on that scene, it was confusing, at best.

If you haven’t watched Shape of Water yet, I highly recommend it for the plotline alone. If you’re like me and like to link cultural artifacts to social science theory, then go see it and tell me what you think. I will enthusiastically give this film a 4.5/5.

Lady Bird is my spirit animal

On a whim, I went to watch Lady Bird in theatres last night after my first exam. I was already stressed, so I wasn’t going to get much studying done anyway. Might as well do something I enjoy to relax and get ready for the next day. I hit a friend up and we drove downtown at 9:30 PM and bought tickets to this movie that we had absolutely no clue on what it was about. The theatre we were in was completely empty. Perfect.

Let me tell you something about Lady Bird: don’t expect it to be a AAA polished film. Lady Bird is a low-budget gem of a movie that will defy your expectations. The story is riveting, the characters are amazing, and the videography is stunning. The movie tells the conflict between a mother and daughter as well as awkward teenage life very realistically and well. It is one of the best films I’ve seen this year and the only way to relive that experience is to watch the trailer on Youtube over and over again. Please send help.

As a writer, I want to write stories that are strong and compelling like Lady Bird. The film’s producer and team did a lot of things right: A+ character development, A+ story telling, and A+ visual images. There’s so much substance and emotional value in this film, and Lady Bird holds a special place in my heart. There are parts that I find absolutely hilarious, awfully cringy, and emotionally gut-wrenching. The producers portray Sacramento through the lens of a young woman accurately, morphing her views of herself and the world depending on her circumstances. They didn’t even need a giant budget to do that. Lady Bird is aesthetically pleasing and emotionally full of substance for a movie with only $10 million in their pockets.

There’s a reason why this movie has a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, but of course there are some nit-picky things that bothered. Some of the minor characters seem two-dimensional and bland, but it makes sense. Greta Gerwig is telling a story through Lady Bird’s eyes, who is biased and highly opinionated but also naïve and innocent. The two-dimensional minor characters classifies this movie as a traditional feel-good, quirky, and stereotypical high school flick. Despite Lady Bird’s stereotypical teenage-ness, the rest of the characters were so well written and developed that I’m willing to negate this negative aspect of the movie.

If you’re bored and want to watch a film with a lot of substance and beautiful writing, Lady Bird is for you. If you prefer more suspenseful movies, watch it anyway to open your horizons a bit. Greta Gerwig produced a stunning debut film, and I look forward to see what she has to offer in the future. I am giving this film a 4.5/5.

13 Reasons Why Sucks. Here’s why.

Trigger Warning: mentions of sexual assault, rape, and suicide.

P.S. Beware of spoilers and sensitive language

 

Netflix’s show and Jay Asher’s YA novel has gained so much traction that it’s not hard not to see it everywhere on the Internet. It spread so fast and sparked a discussion around mental health that is kinda hard to ignore. But even with the theme of suicide and depression in the show, which are topics that definitely need to be talked about, 13 Reasons Why started a discussion in all the wrong directions. In fact, the show itself failed to promote the message that they tried to spread. The show sucked. The show sucked really bad, and here’s why: 13 Reasons Why, as a book and a show, glorifies and glamorises suicide and reaffirms stereotypes of suicide that many teens and young adults have about depression, suicide, and mental health.

  1. “If I die, everyone will feel sorry and the people I hate will get what they deserved, and my wishes will be fulfilled.”

This is one of the most problematic aspects of the franchise. Hannah’s suicide was treated so lightly in both the book and the show. The act doesn’t carry any weight in the books. She gets revenge through Clay. Her parents finally notice her. She gets the boy she loves to notice her. All of this would have made for a great show if Hannah was a) still alive and b) accomplished these on her own, but to portray the affects of her death like this glamorises and glorifies of suicide by making it a justifiable action.

In reality, suicide doesn’t work that way. When someone dies, they die. Sadness and grief will follow, not revenge.

  1. The scene where Hannah kills herself is graphic.

There is a guide online made by suicide prevention experts to show how to portray suicide in the media to prevent copycat suicides. And guess what? 13 Reasons Why broke all of that. In fact, the show even changed the method Hannah used to take her life, but from my understanding the book also went into detail on how she felt after she swallowed the pills. This not only sensationalises suicide but reaffirms myths about depression and mental health.

I don’t understand why Asher and the producers of the show decided to depict suicide in such painstaking detail. Are they trying to provoke emotion out of viewers? If so, they are failing miserably. It would have been more emotionally impactful if they made Hannah’s death happen off screen and sudden even in a flashback, instead of leading up to such a graphic scene.

  1. Hannah thinks that she doesn’t have anyone to talk to/ask for help.

Hannah was, in fact, surrounded with supportive adults and friends. Her parents are wonderful people. Her counsellor actually tries to help her. In the show, he can be seen putting down the phone for her, and actually asking questions because he looks out for her. Even if Hannah wasn’t comfortable telling the adults in her life, she could still go to Clay. Clay’s a positive part of her life. I don’t understand why she couldn’t go to him if she loved him so much. This solidifies a false notion that someone has to go through depression on their own. They don’t. There is help out there.

  1. Hannah is a poorly written “heroine.”

Hannah is being portrayed as the victim here, but she kills herself and drags everyone down with her. The idea of avenging yourself after your death is unrealistic and terrible. When you die, people will move on. Sure, they will be sad for sometime. Sure, your loved ones will grieve for a while, but they will move on. Avenging yourself and making them miserable for your death isn’t going to make things better. In fact, it just makes everything worse. This isn’t the role model we want to give young adults.

  1. All the characters are quite terrible.

Are we supposed to believe that every character was as terrible as they are? It makes sense in the books, since Clay listens to the tapes all in one sitting and never really interacts with anybody else… But the producers of the show could have done better. No one, not even in high school, is that one-dimensional. No one is purely evil or purely good. Hell, the characters other than Hannah and Clay are not even two-dimensional. That’s how terribly written these characters are.

I don’t believe for one bit that this is an accurate portrayal of depression, nor is it a good illustration of suicide. Heck, this isn’t even a good depiction of mental health. Asher and the show’s producers had wonderful opportunities to start a good conversation around mental health and incite powerful action to end the stigma of mental health, but they failed. They failed to achieve the goal that they wanted to fulfill. In the end, this is all just a bad story using mental health as a marketing gimmick. Unfortunately, I will give this franchise a 0.5/5