A man’s truffle pig is stolen and he travels into the city to find it.
Pig‘s titular pig is an adorable old ham. When she’s happy she snorts like an old man laughing at his own jokes, while the river tumbles and twigs crackle around her; when she’s taken you can hear her shrieking in distress.
I wouldn’t describe it as a love letter though there is certainly something beautifully poetic about Pig, a film partly set in a busy violent city but firmly embedded in the woods, streams and undergrowth of rural Oregon.
Nicolas Cage is spellbinding – more sober than subdued – as Rob, a quiet and methodical man who has stripped his life back to truffles, the forest and his pig, and is now singleminded in his pursuit of her after she is stolen.
If this story sounds familiar — a widowed middle-aged man, beaten and bloodied, his car unusable, forced to go back into the city and into his past to find his pet (and who stole her) — then yes you could call this Ham Wick, though Rob’s strength comes not from guns but from the dogmatic power that comes from stripped-back purity and lack of vanity. Single-mindedness, skill and sheer will certainly come into it but Pig is much lower key, and less violent.
I’d like to say quieter, though the superb sound design means we are almost overwhelmed — in a good way — with the richness of noise often missed: a bubbling brook, or the snuffle of his pig. Later grief finds him rocking on the floor, his head booming, the noise no less real to the audience than the pulling, stringy squelching we hear earlier as he lifts his bleeding head off the wooden floor the morning after she is stolen.
Rob — though it’s a while before we find out his name — ropes in Amir (Alex Wolff), his young, flash but inexperienced truffle buyer, to help him. They have to go into Portland, where Amir lives and his dad Darius (Adam Arkin) is a big cheese in fine foods, but not someone you’d want to cross.
Rob won’t be dissuaded from his dogged determination to get to the truth and he has no time for men who have given in to what he sees as the fakery of Portland’s fine dining industry. Later he suggests to Amir he’d rather not know what has happened to his pig as then he could imagine all was well; Amir points out that that would not change the outcome and Rob agrees. It’s the only time we see him consider the comforting lure of white lies.
The film is split into three meals, single course recipes that are odes to the power of simple food. In Portland’s restaurant scene, food has been corrupted along with many of the people who make it. That white-tableclothed, clinical world contrasts with its bloody underbelly, the earthy, honest reality of the industry and its employees. Literally underneath the city is a fight club for restaurant staff, held in the basement of a long-demolished hotel. Even its owner is in thrall to celebrity, with everyone fighting in his club ranked according to name value.
At the fight club Rob allows himself to be beaten, as if for some kind of absolution for leaving, or maybe simply in return for access once more.
Rob it turns out also has name recognition — man, myth, legend — even if it takes a while for old acquaintances to recognise him after ten years of solitary forest living, with his straggly hair and old clothes, his face now decorated with ageing bruises and congealed blood.
That journey back into an old life he’d run from, but where he is still spoken of in hushed tones, is also very Wick-like. Pig is not about vengeance or displaced grief though — Rob is not concerned with payback, he just wants his pig, because he loves his pig.
And Rob is very much able to go back to his old world, do what he has to do and retreat; there are no tangled weeds to pull him back down as he stumbles through the marshy underworld of his past. Rob likes to remind people who they originally were, as he stomps through the fine foods sector like an unwelcome prophet, though sometimes he is pulled up to discover not all change is bad. And at least they have moved forward, unlike him, his life in the woods preserved in aspic.
Wolff is excellent as Amir, out of his depth, trying to impress the father he’s scared of. The relationship he has with Rob, who is suffering the biggest personal loss in a decade, is not that of father and son (Amir doesn’t want a dad, he wants a mum) but Rob is certainly a help for him in the city in which he has been flailing.
Pig is really a very simple story as Rob follows clues or directions from one person to another to find out what has happened to his pig. It’s no shrieking thriller, and it feels as slow-moving and methodical as he is. Director Michael Sarnoski, in his feature debut, has made a film that like a well-planned meal is timed to perfection; nothing is wasted, and everything has a purpose. Yet along the way, like a grain of sand in an oyster, Rob pokes, prods and provokes the people he comes into contact with (and finally himself) to remember how they used to look, listen, taste and smell rather than just exist.
Note: There is an audio end-credits scene.
Missed something? Recap the Pig plot and ending here.
Pig is released in UK cinemas on 20 August 2021, and is out on VOD in the US now:
Watch the trailer now: