Nicolas Cage running on a wild-goose chase after his beloved truffle-hunting pig. Standing on its bonkers premise alone, Pig would have already been something. Alas, what starts as yet another genre film unravels into a moving exploration of how perpetuated patterns of masculinity stand in the way of grief.
Rob (Nicolas Cage) is a truffle hunter living as a hermit, isolated in a crumbling cabin in the middle of the woods. His routine is a dreamlike groundhog day, mornings spent hunting amongst the trees as the sun gently kisses earth and creatures alike; afternoons dedicated to the pleasure of cooking, time never a concern as vegetables are precisely chopped and spices carefully sprinkled. Words are scarcely needed in his recluse and are only exchanged on Thursdays, the day Amir (Alex Wolff), his moneyed truffle dealer, parks his impeccable yellow Chevy Camaro on the unpaved road, sniffing the precious mushrooms as he basks in the certainty of the oncoming bucks.
At night, when darkness envelops Rob’s world, the hunter falls asleep to the soothing noise of crackling fire and the less gracious yet equally comforting squeaks of his darling pig, the animal’s company keeping him from total loneliness. It is unsurprising, then, that when his pig is violently stolen, the man goes from grubby monk to Liam Neeson, embarking on a frenzied search that unearths every memory he so desperately tried to bury under the wet soil of his retreat.
There is an overwhelming sense of joy in watching Cage do his thing, entirely comfortable in his long-standing persona. Here, he is in peak Cage form, his eyes always maniacally fixed, his expression bent in permanent distrust and all words proclaimed eerily slow as the camera rests on his bloodied face as if nothing is out of place. Perhaps the actor’s remarkable performance – his best since 2018’s psychedelic horror Mandy – is due to writer/director Michael Sarnoski having built a character forged in Cage-ism: a manly man fuelled by anger, freed from societal shackles and, above all, a guy who has lost the only thing he still had to lose.
Sarnoski’s exploration of grief is built upon a reflection on the consequences of toxic masculinity when it comes to loss. In Pig, men are confronted with mourning, unable to fully process the dichotomy between the need to project strength and the urge to completely fall apart. Extra-extroverted Alex Wolff stands as a fitting counterpart to sombre Cage, Amir’s thoughtless verborragia a welcoming contrast to Rob’s discomfiting silence. Both behaviours are ultimately unavailing smokescreens, failing to mask the unprocessed issues that impede the two men from moving forwards, their ruminations over the past not so much a desire to fuel revenge as a desperate attempt to grasp onto something they are terrified has been forever lost.
Through the dark undertones of the cinematography and the quiet, pondering sound design, Pig creates a propitious atmosphere to this shared journey of self-analysis, being at its best when it allows the characters to simply spend time alongside one another, finding unexpected clarity in the comfort of togetherness. When it tries too hard to build a web of fate, however, it falls flat, the efforts too on the nose for a film grounded in subtleness.
If one expects the unhinged madness suggested by the premise, they will be met with disappointment. When it comes to animal-themed features, Pig leans more into the muted tenderness of Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, than into the frenzied adrenaline of Steven Spielberg’s classic Jaws. But then again, if one goes in with an open mind, they will find themselves surprisingly moved by the devotion shown by a man for his pig, this love story of sorts unexpectedly touching.
“We don’t get a lot of things to really care about”, Rob wisely states as he punctuates a heartfelt monologue. It is true, we don’t. And when seen with this thought in mind, Pig makes perfect sense. After all, true love is oincredibly hard to come by.
Pig is available in theatres from July 16, 2021.