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Pig

Released 2021. Director: Michael Sarnoski

WHY WOULD ANYBODY STEAL A PIG? THEY WOULD if your pig is a truffle hog. Even on the lower end of the scale, truffles can cost some $200 per kilo. You want the premium stuff, be prepared to fork out $4,500 a kilo. Which is why a pig that sniffs out buried truffles is a priceless business asset.

Nicolas Cage’s character is a truffle forager who lives alone in a tiny cabin with his pig in the Oregonian forests. He whistles, and the pig trots to her master. Who needs words? Indeed, the man hardly ever speaks, not even to his buyer who comes to collect his truffles once a week. By all appearances the forager (whose name we later learn is Robin, or Rob for short) is a sullen and unfriendly recluse more suited to live among trees than humans. He also desperately needs a shower and a change of clothes.

One night, a couple of junkies burst into his cabin, bash him unconscious and snatch the squealing pig. When he awakes, Rob walks out of the woods to look for his pig, blood still congealing on his matted hair and beard. At a roadside diner he asks for a waitress by name and is told she died 10 years ago. Enlisting the very reluctant help of his buyer, a young man by the name of Amir (Alex Wolff), Rob goes to the city.

Up to this point you might be expecting the rest of the movie to be about a man’s search for his prize pet. Somewhere down the road it turns a corner and it’s no longer about the pig. Director Michael Sarnoski, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Vanessa Block, slowly reveals a story about men dealing with loss. Specifically, the loss of a loved one.

In his pursuit of the pig, Rob finds his way to some of the players in the Portland culinary scene, who have no problem recognising him. This is how we find out Rob used to be a legendary chef until the death of his wife drove him into self-imposed exile in the wilderness, cutting off contact with everyone he knows in his bereavement.

As a supplier of luxury ingredients to high-end restaurants, Amir is trying to get out of the shadow of his dad Darius, a big wig in the business and as it turns out, the culprit in the snatching of Rob’s pig. Played by Adam Arkin, Darius ensconces himself in a lofty mansion wielding power and money (he offers Rob $25,000 for the pig) like some kind of mafia don.

In this knotted connections between those who cook (or used to) and those with a control over the dining business, two women are at the centre of the men’s misery. Rob is in the state he’s in because this is how he chooses to live his life after his wife’s death. Darius’s wife (and Amir’s mother) is in a coma on life support after a suicide attempt, and the psychological toll is clearly having an impact on father and son.

Fine food is the other connection. Rob gets into his chef mode and prepares the same dish he served Darius and his wife years ago, a time when she was happy. Eating the same dish brings back memories and overflowing emotions for Darius. If this is Rob’s intention in breaking the man, he’s succeeded.

Lurking behind all this you can sense there’s some important message about how the men internalise their pain in the management of grief. Like a top chef getting on with mise en place, Sarnoski cuts, slices and weighs his ideas and presents his creation with much thought and artistry.

Alternately sombre and gloomy, there are baffling moments of an underworld of fight club and the shady side behind the façade of upscale dining. There are times when it appears Sarnoski is aiming for profundity in place of actual narrative strength.

One thing that holds the movie together is undoubtedly Nicolas Cage. With his patchy report card, this Oscar winner swings wildly between terrific performances and some real shockers. Pig marks his return to form. Eyes low, brooding, Cage builds a tempered presence of tough-man melancholy, not the crazy Nic Cage of physical violence but a quiet loner of internal anguish. If his shredded heart was served on a plate, it would come with a Michelin star.


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