Blog Directory CineVerse: Move over, Babe: This pig in the city's got a perturbed papa you won't forget

Move over, Babe: This pig in the city's got a perturbed papa you won't forget

Monday, July 3, 2023

Let’s be honest: The past several years have been hit or miss for actor Nicolas Cage, who has made some curious acting choices, to put it mildly, in the 21st century. But he’s enjoyed a critical and popular resurgence of sorts lately, as evidenced by his work in Mandy, Color Out of Space, and, perhaps most impressively, Pig – a 2021 memorable feature directed and written by newcomer Michael Sarnoski. Cage portrays Rob, a truffle hunter living a quiet life in the secluded Oregon wilderness alongside his beloved pet: a cherished foraging pig. Rob's peaceful existence is shattered when his porcine pal is abducted, thrusting him into an audacious trek through the bustling metropolis in search of her. Along the journey, he plunges into the mysterious underworld of the culinary realm, revealing to us his own enigmatic history and unearthing the profound significance of his connection with the pig.

What sets Pig apart from the pack is its profound and emotionally charged storytelling. Sarnoski skillfully intertwines a narrative centered around characters that captures the very essence of the tale. Critics have lauded the film for its unique and innovative premise, captivating cinematography, and stimulating examination of identity and purpose.

Click here to listen to a recording of our CineVerse group discussion of Pig, conducted last week.

This is an unpredictable movie that undercuts our anticipation for what we think it’s going to be. Instead of a bare-knuckled, gritty revenge thriller in which the protagonist vanquishes his foes and recovers his kidnapped loved one – a la Taken or John Wick – Pig turns out to be a nuanced, surprisingly sensitive character study with several twists and curiosities along the way.

You might have, for example, expected it to feature more action, violence, or thrills. These elements are minimal. Or, perhaps you thought it was going to take a more comedic or quirky route, like an oddball buddy picture, or an outlandish odyssey tale like The Straight Story. Instead, the tone often remains melancholy and serious. This could have been a contemporary noirish detective story, but not to be. And no (spoiler!), our hero and his swine in distress are not reunited by the conclusion.

Interestingly, the movie is peculiarly segmented into different chapters with unusual titles, like “Mom’s French Toast & Deconstructed Scallops” or “A Bottle, A Bird, A Salted Baguette.” And the subculture of restauranteurs, chefs, fighters, bakers, and other underground players in and around Portland make for a colorful dramatis personae.

Cage demonstrates again that he should not be underestimated. Although he’s taken some serious left turns and stumbles since his Academy Award win for Leaving Las Vegas nearly three decades ago, he’s more than capable of turning in a stellar performance. This is certainly true of his embodiment of Rob in this film.

The obvious life lesson at the heart of Pig? Be your authentic self. Rob challenges Amir, Chef Derek, and others to stop being fake and follow their true pursuits without conforming, acquiescing, or denying their deepest passions. We see how Amir is putting up a front and rejecting a false image of success and cultural sophistication, but the truth is he’s living in the shadow of his shady father and the prevailing grief and toxicity that haunts his family.

Brian Eggert with Deep Focus Review wrote: “(Pig) questions how people resolve to adopt roles or wear masks, while underneath, they remain unhappy and betrayed by themselves. Somber and cynical about our habit of choosing financial comfort and assimilation over our dreams, Sarnoski’s film asks that we question whether our choices are authentic…Pig is a rare film that treats its characters with an open heart and its themes with an intimate profundity that never feels affected or disingenuous. Like Robin’s effect on other characters, it can take people to places they may not want to go but should.”

Pig also reinforces the truism that you can never truly go home again. Although Rob is forced to venture back into the Portland world and subculture he left behind years ago to pursue his stolen pig, he and we know that he cannot re-assimilate into this milieu. There is simply too much water under the pig trough for that to happen.

This is a work that reckons with the power of loss, heartache, and memories. A pet oinker may seem like a relatively insignificant companion, but to Rob – who also lost his wife in unexplained circumstances years before – the pig is an intrinsic part of his life whose absence will take a toll. Consider that Rob likely withdrew from society and the big city because of the death of his wife long ago. His inability to play her homemade cassettes speaks to the might of memories and the pain that the loss of a close loved one can bring. Ponder, too, the impact of cherished memories; case in point, Rob serving the same thrilling meal he cooked Darius and his wife years prior triggers recollections in Darius of happier times with his spouse, which causes this villainous character’s tough façade to crumble; Darius then admits the truth about the death of Rob’s pig.

A further movie moral to contemplate is that it’s commonly life’s simplest pleasures that are often the most impactful and profound. Rob is an austere man with modest needs. He appears happy merely living off the grid in the woods with his snouted companion, finding quiet joy in rooting out nature’s delicacies and cooking them up in his shack. Way to win at life, Rob, and beat the high cost of living, too.

Similar works

  • Fight Club
  • Taken
  • John Wick
  • Big Night
  • The Menu
  • Okja
  • Babette’s Feast
  • Winter’s Bone
  • Ratatouille

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