Okja begins with Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), the newly minted CEO of agrochemical giant the Mirando Corporation, giving a tour of her grandfather’s factory. “Welcome to my inauguration!” she chirps. Wearing pink lipstick and a cream-colored jumpsuit, her face framed in shiny white-blonde bangs, Lucy walks down the factory stairs beaming like a Miss America contestant. “Now I know, we all know, that Grandpa Mirando was a terrible man.” She titters. “We know of the atrocities he committed in this space. We know the walls are stained with the blood of fine working men. But today I reclaim this space to tell you a beautiful story.” Childlike, colorful cartoon graphics are projected behind her as she describes her plan to rebrand the Mirando Corporation. “Now the rotten CEOs are gone, it’s Mirando’s new era, with me, and with new core values: environment and life. Awesome!”
Donald Trump has already reverberated through pop culture, from Boss Baby to Julius Caesar in the park (RIP). But Bong Joon-ho’s Okja offers what may be the first Trump-era movie villain who is 100 percent Ivanka, from the crown of her silky blonde head to the soles of her shiny white pumps. In this story, the bad guy is not the blustering, foul-mouthed father but the sweet-talking daughter: a villain even more terrifying given her failure to present as such. (For the last time: Ivanka isn’t going to save us from her father, no matter how nice she looks or sounds.)
The main plot of Okja — part environmental horror story, part social satire — takes place ten years after Lucy’s stump speech. It tells the story of a young South Korean girl named Mija and her best friend, Okja, a genetically modified gigantic pig, or “superpig,” given to her by the Mirando Corporation. When the company comes to take Okja away, Mija discovers the terrible truth: that the superpigs were merely a PR stunt to help Lucy turn “the most hated agrochemical company in the world into the most likable miracle pig-rearing company” (and to obscure the horrific environmental crimes they’re committing behind the scenes).
Throughout the film, it’s hard not to feel like we’re watching some future Ivanka rule (if not in politics then in business) play out before our eyes. It’s all there: teferences to the tyrannical father who came before her (a “psychopath” who used to call her an “idiot loser”); the cutesy, Über-feminine aesthetic; the empty corporate jargon (she got the idea for the superpigs at an “institute for the advancement of human potential” called Unleash Your Calling, where many a “forward-looking CEO go to visualize new and better ways of doing business”); the bullshit faux environmentalism; the strained, somewhat constipated expression on her face; the fake smiles; the obsession with image; the hollow appeals to a vague notion of feminism (as she says of Mija, in a quest to get her to be the new face of the company: “She’s young, she’s pretty, she’s female, she’s eco-friendly, and she’s global — she’s a godsend”); and, of course, the fact that it’s all a lie: that beneath the cutesy aesthetics and cheery sloganeering, she is just as committed to exploiting and polluting the planet for profit as her predecessors were.
Swinton hasn’t been shy about describing the influence Ivanka had on the character. (Likewise, the film’s costume designer has said she pulled from Trump’s wardrobe — along with those of Gwyneth Paltrow and Marissa Mayer — for inspiration.) “When we shot in New York last summer, I stood watching the Republican convention on the television in our lunch break dressed as Lucy, watching a different daughter of a different dubious dynasty addressing, from a high podium, a big crowd with glossy blonde hair, expensive orthodontics and modeling her Barbie-perfect modest pink dress, concurrently on sale online,” Tilda explained in an interview with the Wrap. “Chicken? Egg?”
Yet if Swinton has given us one of the first truly obvious Ivanka-inspired villains in pop culture, I suspect Lucy won’t be the last. Indeed, that might be the upshot of this whole thing; the wolf in She-E.O.’s clothing is such a juicy archetype to exploit that we’re pretty much guaranteed to see more and more of these characters over the coming years. (I still can’t wait for the inevitable prestige HBO series about the Jarvanka marriage.) And as the Ivanka archetype becomes more familiar, perhaps we’ll readjust our expectations, just a little bit: We’ll stop thinking that being pretty and feminine and soft-spoken are the same thing as being good, and remind ourselves that evil comes in all sorts of packages.