Pig

Pig ★★★★

One of my friends, who chose “Pig” as his favorite film of 2021, has been badgering me for months to finally watch this. Although I kept dragging my feet, mostly because I expected it to be a profoundly depressing experience, I had to concede that it was important research for the “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” pod we recorded a few days ago. I wouldn’t rank it quite as highly as he does, but it is an astonishing use of sparce resources to craft something special. It also came out at just the right time. Nicolas Cage playing a fictional Nicolas Cage who is reduced to accepting gigs at birthday parties because nobody wants to cast him in their movies anymore would have seemed desperate given his resume in recent years, the sad attempt by a has-been to make himself relevant again. But thanks to “Pig”, a performance that rightfully earned him universal acclaim, the narrative is considerably different and “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has instead been lauded as a funny, self-aware piece of satire.

What stands out about “Pig” is that it doesn’t feel the need to explain itself in condescending detail. There is no grand monologue about why Robin Feld, once a star chef in Portland, went into exile in the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest to make his living foraging truffles with his pig. Throughout the film, we get pieces of the puzzle and begin to understand the mindset of this deeply dispirited recluse, with nobody but his pig to keep him company. Until someone knocks him out and steals it. Robin is understandably devastated and with the help of Amir, the lone buyer of his truffles, attempts to track it down. The initial premise does sound similar to “John Wick”. Mysterious man of few words reappears on the scene because someone wronged his pet. And while Rob doesn’t turn out to be a professional assassin feared by the whole underworld, when he first introduces himself to the spectators of an underground fighting ring for people in the culinary business, everybody understands the significance of his appearance. Everybody has heard of him. People who are old enough to remember his restaurant treat him with awe and deference, in stark contrast to his disheveled, bloody appearance. Robin is a living legend back from the dead, and even though his best days are long behind him, his name instantly opens doors Amir had to work years to be able to even knock on.

Nicolas Cage’s performance subdues his grandstanding impulses in favor of a depressed and withdrawn shell of a human being. He brought joy to thousands of people. His restaurant was a hub of culinary craftsmanship and even the harshest critics left with memories to last them a lifetime. Amir reveals that his own parents, whose marriage was always troubled, spoke for years about their evening at his place. Until then, he had only seen Rob as a dirty, practically homeless weirdo, who is good for business, but not much else. When he realizes who he has been dealing with all along, their relationship is dramatically altered. Not judging a book by its cover is far too simple and superficial a theme to reduce this film to, but it’s certainly accurate that many people who don’t look the part have impressive histories to share if somebody were to ask them. And it’s true that a truly great meal will come up in conversation even years later. It’s disheartening then that the man who was responsible for bringing that joy to his patrons would pack up shop and leave civilization behind so absolutely.

What’s surprising about Rob is his empathy, his impeccable memory that allows him to peel back the layers of people he only met briefly and hasn’t seen in years. The scene with the chef at a gourmet cuisine restaurant is the stand-out, an astounding deconstruction of a man who seemingly has it all but gave up on his dream years ago because apparently pubs aren’t as fashionable. Rob’s reappearance after more than a decade brings back memories in people who didn’t even know they still had them. Derek only worked for Rob for a few months before he was let go (he always overcooked the pasta, an unforgivable transgression indeed), but yet, his former boss understands him so thoroughly that Derek’s artificial grin slowly melts into a face of unguarded despair. Maybe that is what happens to a man who for years only has himself and an animal for company. The complex social code humans are forced to adhere to on a daily basis vanishes and all that remains are universal truths. Rob barely ever speaks nowadays, and his voice is hoarse form years of barely being used. Communicating with a pet requires a more profound and empathetic way of interacting, an ability to read emotions without spoken words. Maybe that’s why Rob is able see behind Derek’s façade with such ease. The deception must seem all too obvious to him.

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