Watching Pig, I was struck, as I always am when I watch Nicolas Cage in a movie, by how singular a presence and talent he is. He is an actor without an ounce of vanity, allowing him to go to places other actors may avoid for fear of seeming foolish. Cage possesses the ability to portray every emotion to its zenith and yet still have us gasping at the genuine sincerity at the root of it all.
This brings us to Cage’s Robin, in Michael Sarnoski’s Pig, a movie, not just about grief and loss, but how we are rendered vulnerable by love. It’s also about how modern society is structured to strip away our dreams in favor, not of pragmatic compromise, but of a hollow existence in which our happiness and self-worth are considered forfeit.
It may sound as if Pig is nihilistic, and it certainly has its moments, but in the end, it is a mournful celebratory yawp of love lost, and love found. Sarnoski, who also wrote the script, explores all of this with a plot others might use in a kitschy manner, but who in Sarnoski’s hands is the dead earnest of reading matter.
Pig is about Robin, a man who lives by himself in the bowels of the woods of Oregon, accompanied by his truffle pig. Every morning the two go out hunting for truffles and return home, where Robin prepares a dish for him and his Pig. Every Thursday, Amir (Alex Wolff) comes out to pay him for hi Truffles and sells them to the posh Portland restaurants. One night someone breaks into Robin’s cabin and steals his pig.
Now Robin, and Amir, must hunt down the men who took his pig. A sentence that, on its face, sounds like a hokey ripoff of John Wick. But Sarnoski isn’t interested in anything like that. Instead, Pig is a patient character study about how love can destroy and sustain you.
At one point, Amir tells Robin a story about his parents always fighting. But then one night they went out to a restaurant, and when they came back, all they could talk about was the food. Their relationship was fraught with problems, but the memory of that meal always brought a moment of peace. Robin was the chef; it was his meal, his restaurant, that touched his parents so profoundly. Amir also tells Robin that his mother committed suicide.
The whole time Robin sits there, almost in agony, partly because he is still tending the wounds from a fight the night before, but also because he is being reminded of a time where he was happy, and he doesn’t want to remember. But when Amir tells him about his mother, something in Robin’s demeanor changes. He recognizes a familiar soul in pain.
“We don’t…have to care.” Sarnoski has Cage give a monologue about the perils and inevitable coming of climate change, but the point is that we don’t have to care; it would be easier not to. But loving is the thing; it’s what sustains us. Pain is inevitable, but it comes from opening ourselves up to allow love.
Later on, the duo meets chef Derek (David Knell), a former employee of Robin who was ford because he kept overcooking the pasta. That was years ago, but Robin still remembers him. What follows is one of the movie’s best scenes, as breathtaking as it is brutal.
More to the point, it’s about allowing your dreams to stay your dreams even if they don’t make you rich or famous. But both Sarnoski and Cage are so insistently sincere that the message feels like a revelation. The packaging doesn’t matter if there’s nothing inside the package or worse, the person making it has no joy or fulfillment from it. “We don’t get a lot of things to really care about.”
Cage gives one of his more textured and richest performances of recent years. A man ravaged by loneliness and grief but who nonetheless craves companionship. He moves through the frames of Pig with a quiet dominance. Robin is a character that seems to be trying to fold into himself, and Cage plays him with gentle selfishness that at times morphs into staggering compassion and kindness.
Eventually, Robin tracks down his pig to Darius (Adam Arkin). The mystery is less mysterious and more deeply human and accidental. But by the end, Robin, Darius, and Amir will find themselves profoundly connected by a memory and a shared loss. Perhaps watching Pig during the third year of a pandemic imbues it with a sort of emotional power it may not have had had it come out another time.
But even if it had, Patrick Scola’s cinematography would have still lent Pig a lyrical beauty. In a way, Sarnoski and Scola have crafted a symphonic poem of sadness and love. But even more impressive is how the sound design mixed with Alex Grapsas and Phillip Klein work together to create a sort of meditative, elegiac melody. At times realistic, Scola’s camera births a kind of neo-noir where the drive isn’t people trapped by their obsessions so much as characters fueled by their passions.
Wolff, it should be noted, holds his own next to Cage, which is no mean feat. But, whereas Cage is guarded with the occasional stormy outburst, Wolff’s Amir is a boy pretending to be a man. At first glance, he seems like a callous and shallow jerk, only caring about what Robin can do for him. But, soon, Wolff begins to show us Amir’s soft underbelly, a scared kid, yearning for some sort of love and approval.
If I’ve made Pig sound like some emotionally resonant albeit strange movie, that is simply because it is. It is a movie that revels in the joy and beauty of a salted baguette while also allowing space for a sort of underground fight club for restaurant workers. But it is never false and seems keenly aware of our times and how many of us feel as if we are living not for ourselves but for something far crasser and less rewarding; a system that only knows our value by our output.
We don’t have to care. But to go through life without caring is a barren existence. We get so few things to really care about. So, cherish them and hold them, for one day they, and we, will be gone.
Images courtesy of Neon
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