A man alone in the wilderness fighting to find his stolen pig, stopping at nothing until retribution is served to the criminals who beat our protagonist. This is the type of movie the trailers paint a picture of. Instead, Pig delivers one of the most relevant commentaries on human existence in recent memory, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19. Starring Nicolas Cage as truffle hunter Rob and Alex Wolff as privileged truffle dealer Amir, what movie goers are welcomed to is not their typical Cage thriller.
One role of the movie and all creative works of literature is to somehow mirror and make commentary on society. The most critically acclaimed pieces are involved in the idea of “the human experience.” For instance, Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton dissects the history of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of America through verse and stage performances. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby holds up a mirror to the ideal of the American dream and challenges the class divide in twentieth century New York. Contemporary cinema often struggles to find this spark of engagement between its content and viewers and no time has needed an artistic escape more so than the summer of 2021.
Nearly a year and a half into the global pandemic of COVID-19, it is hard to choose an industry that has changed as drastically as film. Cinemas have begun the reopening phase and one movie to take advantage of this window is newcomer Michael Sarnoski’s movie Pig. The reasoning that this is so drastically relevant is the philosophical ideas tackled in the concluding act. Throughout the process of grief, Rob went back to his roots; back to his sense of normality. He created the meal which broke our antagonist’s cold, hard shell and allowed a moment of reflection and acceptance. Trauma is finally faced and ultimately conquered. With easing restrictions and wider options of personal safety via vaccination and masks, much like the climatic scene of Pig, society has begun to face trauma and conquer it.
Not only is there a feeling of impotence due to outside forces, there are deep themes of conformity as well. The specific scene in question involves Rob coming face to face with the fine dining society that he left behind years prior. After being served a deconstructed dish lacking any sense of artistic integrity, Rob demands to speak with the chef. Through an intense dialogue where the chef attempts to defend the concept of high society cuisine, the true aspirations of the chef are revealed. This includes opening an English pub and serving traditional English food. Instead the chef is stuck in an uncreative success which is simply adhering to the simulacra of high class food. This idea of living versus existing is another common human dilemma. Is success worth pushing aside one’s personal dreams and aspirations?
The discrepancy between a successful film and a flop is nearly always founded in the ability to capture the human condition. Infamous films such as Tommy Wiseau’s The Room fall flat not because of the atrocity of the plot and script (however poorly crafted it may be), but primarily due to the alien nature of the content. The characters are not fleshed out in a human manner, they are perceived as what they are: fictitious caricatures. Pig does not fall victim to this due to the thought and time put into each main character. Focusing on one central theme, in this case the universal experience of death and grief, and each character’s method of working through this allows viewers to see three drastically different perspectives on a human condition. The three main characters Rob, Amir, and Amir’s emotionally distant father Darius, played by Adam Arkin, deal with grief through the iconic seven stage process. One of the few guaranteed physiologically experiences of life, death and dealing with such is a certainty and Pig’s exploration of this makes for an automatically engaging piece of media. Through more drastic means, Chloé Zaho’s Academy Award winning film Nomadland achieved a similar quality through the use of non-actors.
There is a sense of stagnation across Pig. The literal representation of stagnation comes in the form of Amir’s comatose mother. The father and son duo of Amir and Darius have not accepted the fact that Amir’s mother has essentially passed away, only being kept alive in an unresponsive state through Darius’ finances and refusal to face an answer other than recovery. These characters represent denial and bargaining within the grief process. Exploring the journey of the character Rob, the plot of the movie mirrors the structure of the seven steps of grief. Opening on a peaceful cabin and mundane routine, the viewer is introduced to the state of equilibrium: Rob goes truffle hunting with his pig and having a weekly exchange of goods with Amir. This quickly jumps to shock and denial in the grieving process when one night Rob is brutally beaten and his pig is kidnapped from the cabin. The hero’s journey that follows is initially fueled by guilt but is then nearly anger and bargain until the climactic reveal by Darius. It is revealed that the pig was accidentally killed when the kidnappers originally stole her causing Rob to have his final moment of depression and loneliness. The ending of the film has a great moment of dialogue between the characters of Rob and Amir:
Rob: “I was thinking if I never came looking for her, in my head, she’d still be alive.”
Amir: “But she wouldn’t be.”
Rob: “No, she wouldn’t.”
Coming full circle, the ending of the movie finds both characters nearing the stage of acceptance. They finish their quest and resume their deal that they had in the initial equilibrium of the film.
A secondary thematic thread that Pig follows is the idea of classit divide. Rob is incorporated into the minimalist culture of truffle farming. Living alone with his pig in the middle of the Oregan wilderness, Rob is not a particularly wealthy man. He works for supplies, the bare essentials of life. The character of Amir is engrossed with the idea of breaking into high society, only associating with people in the high class restaurant scene, attempting to only consume high art (this is shown directly through his choice of pompous classical radio). The people who are thriving in this movie and in society are those with the most money to spend. The antagonist Darius is untouchable due to his immense wealth and his condescending nature which is a change of pace from other antagonists across other films. There is no magic solution or win that Rob can muster up. There is no way for Rob to defeat the established hierarchy. The only true resolution is the acceptance each character faces with their own journeys through grief.
Through its relatability, Pig finds a familiar, uncomfortable, but eventually comforting message through the lens of a unique set of characters, settings, and motifs. Portraying the hero’s journey on a quest to reclaim a loved one, Pig calls back to ancient storytelling tradition. In the words of Nicolas Cage’s Rob, “We don’t get a lot of things to really care about.” Michael Sarnoski’s Pig should be one that viewers do care about.