The premise of Michael Sarnoski’s Pig is deceptively straightforward. A truffle hunter, played by none other than Nicolas Cage, lives in isolation in the Oregonian wilderness. His only companion is his beloved foraging pig. When his pig is snatched by poachers, the man makes a desperate return to society and his complex past to search for her.
This story of an unlikely friendship is just the surface of all that Pig has to offer. Wrapped within this search for a pig is the bizarre underbelly of the culinary elite, insight on loss and the natural human craving for connection, and a complex bouquet of stark contrasts. The result is a totally unexpected, but utterly fascinating film. Whatever you think you know about Pig going in, discard it entirely.
The film begins on the disarming note of the quiet pastoral. Pig’s first few scenes are eerily quiet as Rob (Cage) and his truffle pig traverse the beautiful Oregon mountains, existing in a soft and silent harmony. Those early scenes evoke the feeling of a monastery and the silent practitioner in his devotions. Instantly, the viewer understands the bond between Rob and his pig, as well as their connection to their private, natural world.
This makes the arrival of Alex Wolff’s Amir all the more jarring. Amir arrives in a disruptively yellow sports car with classical music blaring. The presence of the outside world in this sacred space feels like the deepest sort of invasion. In the next scene, the poachers violently assault this temple to nature, attack Rob, and steal his pig. The delicate balance of Rob’s world and peace is brutally shattered. These early scenes, resting on the rock-solid foundation of Cage’s performance and the expertly constructed cinematography by Patrick Scola, are the most essential to the film. In very little time, with even fewer words, the audience feels kinship to Rob.
From there, Pig takes an insane turn into something between a foodie Fight Club meets Taken. Rob is our guide to a seedy side of the culinary industry, where power players fight dirty and vie for supremacy. This section of the film is surprisingly brutal and violent, creating one of the most interesting juxtapositions in the film. Pig places primal violence right up next to the refinement of upscale dining. Each of the figures that Rob introduces us to in this section of the film are master craftsman. The details are so delicate, the work is full of passion and the pursuit of perfection—but the men behind this are ruthless and bloodied by the pursuit.
In case it wasn’t already clear, Pig is a story about food. How food is the marriage of base need and the highest potential of human creativity and passion. Food is the language spoken, understood, and respected by every character in the film. It’s a religion and Rob is something of a culinary Dalai Lama. More than that, Pig is about food as a communal experience that connects and comforts us.
The characters of Pig are all grappling with different degrees of loss. Rob, Amir, and others are reaching out for comfort as they search for ways to cope with the sudden realization that they are alone. Their loved ones are gone. Food is the connective tissue shared by these men, along with their heartache, that opens up communication and provides comfort. It’s a fascinating means of presenting a very intimate issue. Well done.
Nicolas Cage is on a whole other level in Pig. The notoriously over-the-top performer brings a reserved sophistication to the role that is just as much a stark contrast as the other elements in the film. Cage can play the crazy just as well as he can play the subtle, intimate moments. This is easily some of his best work and it’s only made better by the precise filmmaking being showcased.
Pig is a sumptuous dish of a film. It’s elegantly assembled and each ingredient—from writing to performance to each lovely frame—enhances the overall palate of the film. To call it an unexpected treat is a massive understatement, but I will have to suffice. What a delight.
Pig opens in theaters on July 16th, 2021.
Movie Score: 3.5/5