Written by Michael Sarnoski & Vanessa Block
Directed by Michael Sarnoski
If you have seen the trailer for this new Nicolas Cage vehicle, you will still not really understand what you will see. There are shades of a John Wick-style revenge film hinted at in this picture, yet it is absolutely nothing like those movies at all. They share a slight similarity in the inciting incident, but when it comes to themes and characters, Pig could not be more different. This is also not a movie that leans into the meme-ifcation of Cage that has become popular over the last 15 years. In reality, this is a quiet, meditative film about working through grief.
Robin (Cage) is a hermit living in a shed in the forests of the Pacific Northwest with his truffle pig. He is visited once a week by Amir (Alex Wolff), his sole buyer of the coveted & expensive mushrooms. Robin’s life is intentionally simplistic until one night when two assailants burst into his home and kidnap his beloved pig. The following day, Robin wakes up and makes his way into town, calling Amir, who helps him begin tracking the animal down. This means Robin will have to revisit his past in Portland, Oregon, and all the pain associated with that. They journey through an underworld of restaurant staff, visiting chefs & bakers. It turns out both of these men have loss & pain in their pasts, and they have struggled to come to terms with it.
If you are expecting a bombastic, over-acting Nicolas Cage, you won’t get that here. That might make you worried you’re going to see a repeat of this year’s dreadful Willy’s Wonderland, but it’s not that either. Cage is still playing an eccentric character, but he’s grounded in the tone of the film. There are slightly off-kilter moments, but nothing pulls the audience out of the honest, genuine emotion. Unlike John Wick, Robin never throws a punch in his search for his Pig. He actually allows himself to be beaten down pretty badly at one point. Cage keeps losing more and more, but he refuses to confront that loss and work through it.
Connection is the other theme entangled with grief throughout Pig. Rob’s interactions with people are cold & unflinching. He runs into a chef he once knew in another life and proceeds to remind the man of all the dreams of his youth he’s obviously given up on based on where the chef is now. Rob reminds this old friend of what he said he would do, and the friend responds with excuses of how those dreams were marketable in the current state of the culinary industry. Amir is dealing with a tragic rift between himself and his father, Darius (Adam Arkin). That loss paints how both men interact with the world and each other. It also leads to a connection with Rob and his past that ultimately serves to tie everything together in the third act.
If this had been a film solely focused on Cage’s character, then I don’t think it would have worked quite as well, so Amir’s presence is much needed to provide a balance. Rob’s history reveals him as someone of extraordinary talent who pushed all that aside when he suffered significant loss long ago. There’s a sense that a genius was squandered over his decision, yet his skills are his, and only he can determine when & how they are used. Amir, on the other hand, is not an exceptional person. He is constantly listening to audio lessons about classical music, where a narrator talks over the pieces and explains why they are extraordinary. Amir exists in a world where he doesn’t experience things and feels their greatness; he understands them as having value because of the status they imbue on him. By the end of the film, these conceits are shaken off, and he finds himself connected with Rob in a more profound way than he has with anyone since his mother.
At one point, Rob has a monologue where he describes how Portland will inevitably be swallowed up by a tsunami, everything that the people hold precious and dear now sunken beneath a wave beyond comprehension. He tells us this as a way to explain why he is so disconnected from the world. Yet, he chose to leave the city and live in solitude. He lives in a place where he would be safe from that impending doom, and thus it implies he does want to live. Rob just simply doesn’t know what to live for. By the end of the film, he’s hit with a second loss that parallels his first, and it is in this pain that his mind is illuminated. He must look his grief directly in the eye and come to terms with it. I will freely admit I bawled my eyes as the movie brought up grief I still feel over the loss of our dogs in the last year and, on top of that, the seemingly never-ending loss that has come with COVID-19. I think Pig is a film that connects powerfully with the moment we are in right now, our country wants to ignore & rush past the pain happening every day, and we won’t ever be able to heal if we do that.