We open on a green, misty forest somewhere in Oregon. Out there, isolated in the depths of the foliage, there sits a cabin, ramshackle and isolated, where we follow the apparent daily customs of a grizzled man…and his loyal pig. There’s a certain shabby enchantment to the environment, so removed from our everyday understanding of civilized society but so tranquil and orderly in its routine that it feels like its own separate universe. The final shot of this opening sequence positions itself from the inside of the dilapidated cabin, looking out into that forest where man and pig function as a team. As the shot holds steady, the title card displays in the doorway, as if it’s a window into the world we are about to enter: Pig.
What an intriguing and immersive world it is, those early signs of otherworldly enchantment methodically expanded into a universe of such rogue specificity that it feels as though its tone could spin off into any direction at any time. This is a universe of cutthroat dealers, corrupt capitalists, and underground fight clubs. It’s a universe where the pristine surface disguises an endlessly seedy underworld where danger lurks at every turn. What is this unnerving and treacherous world? It is, of course, the labyrinthine world of hunting and selling truffles, and the story’s inciting incident is the capture of the grizzled man’s loyal pig.
There is little reason such a universe should be so captivating, and no reason to imagine how such a story could be successfully conceived. But that’s the allure of Pig, which simultaneously elevates itself off the screen while pulling us into its world. Director Michael Sarnoski, in his first feature, demonstrates such an adept control over his tone and atmosphere that the film feels absolutely grounded in its own reality and is riveting from beginning to end. Only afterward, once released from its spell, do we remind ourselves just how many ways this concept could’ve gone sideways.
“Sideways” is as valid a description as any for every stray character in the film, each of them struggling to steady themselves, twisting in the wind of their own pain in this unforgiving world. At the center of them is Rob, the grizzled man whose pig was kidnapped. Selling truffles is how he makes his “living,” if you want to call it that, trading the expensive truffles for enough sundries to survive day-to-day in his desolate abode. Stoic and resolute, his tunnel-vision mission is only to find his partner, the pig who digs up those truffles. But for Rob, that pig is more than a means to an end – it’s the only thing left that he cares about in the world.
Nicolas Cage plays Rob, just in case you wondered if this film’s razor’s edge could get any sharper. But amid the torrent of his broadside performances in throwaway paycheck roles, Cage delivers a pained, soulful performance, mining the depths of this man seeking his only emotional lifeline, and finding the psychological pathway to actualize a person whose emotional lifeline is an animal most of us disregard as breakfast meat. It’s his best work in years, and both the character and the performance are representative of Pig’s thematic preoccupation: the festering wounds of grief, the futile efforts made to patch those wounds, and the events that can jolt one from grief’s static thrall.
We learn Rob was once a renowned chef who exited the scene after a tragic loss. Forced from his isolation to rescue his beloved pig, he re-enters the high-end culinary universe, one not merely competitive and cutthroat, but downright lethal – and not just psychologically. Sarnoski crafts this professional culinary world as one of outward corruption, lurking danger, and underground violence, a sort of John Wick-ian secret society for restaurant workers. It’s not difficult to envision a broader take on this story where Rob assumes the Wick role, plowing his way through line cooks and restaurateurs to rescue his pet. But Pig takes a different tack. Marching through the ash of all his long-burned bridges, Rob is seeking not retribution but reconciliation. He’s missing a piece of himself and wants to be made whole again. That soulful humanity guides him – and us – through the grave shadows.