Pig is meant more to make you think and ponder about the meaning of life rather than to amuse you, because it challenges what you’re really seeking to get out of a movie, since it’s clearly not for entertainment purposes after all.
Nicolas Cage plays the main guy, Robin, calm and slow as he grieves over the loss of his stolen pet pig; he never raises his voice, in fact he barely even speaks, providing proof that a subtle performance screams much more intensely than loud acting. Yet out of everyone in the limited cast, Adam Arkin gives probably the most powerful performance, even if he’s not on screen for long.
In the very first scene, there’s so little lighting as Robin and his pig look for a truffle in the forest, and it’s not like it’s even the middle of the night, the trees just create so much shade that you can barely spot the outlines of the two subjects by the little amount of light behind them. This soft, minimalist way to start the movie forces you to look at the world through a swine’s eyes until the dark and hazy cinematography leaves the forest and points down from way up above in the sky, when this happens, the landscape becomes quite pretty, but at the same time, muted with all grays and murky greens, displaying the Oregon wilderness’s true colors.
Even if you for the most part have to squint to make out the image, you particularly see a lot in the brief performance of David Knell, who plays the chef of a fancy restaurant in one scene. His character is introduced through the pleasing composition of a truffle dish served by his restaurant on a smoking platter, which lets you know how much care and respect he has for these precious ingredients. When this maker of that dish is met in person, he starts out happy and professional, but once his façade is torn down and his true insecurities come out, you know the real him just by looking into his eyes. The cast all have the similar look of lost passion, for while you may not get a good look into their pupils, the empty gazes are always there; the actors talk at each other, not to each other.
The production crew seems to have taken something that could have been conceptualized as a short film originally, and drew it out to feature length by having lots of extra-long pauses in conversations, good doses where an actor can spend up to a whole minute just sitting there doing nothing without any music playing. It certainly tests your patience as to what you can tolerate in a movie, which honestly is one of this feature’s shortcomings. The more ambitious independent filmmakers ought to understand that you don’t have to be slow and contemplative to stand out. Yeah, I know that it’s their way of standing out by trying to counteract the noisy fast-paced franchises that make tons of money, but I’d still like to be entertained by watching a movie, dang it. Yet here’s a much bigger reason as to why I don’t think many people will find any entertainment value in this arthouse film: it’s so dang depressing. It starts off sad of course with a man losing his pet and having to go search for her, but right from the get-go there’s no comic relief, no bright side to anything that’s going on, Nicolas Cage never even smiles once.
Here’s what hurts it even more: there’s no motivation for this guy to find his pig. I mean, obviously, it’s because he needs to get his pet back, but what need is this pig fulfilling for him? What is it he needs to overcome to get his pig back? He says that his pig is not only his pet, but he also claims that she’s a crucial component of helping him find truffles (even though something he says later 86s that statement). The mostly silent first few minutes convey nothing of what makes his relationship with his pig different from the bonds of other people and their animal companions.
Well, I guess I could still praise more of the cinematic qualities it gets right. The editing works well, as not a second is ever wasted- there’s no padding with unnecessary fluff, and there’s nothing so distractingly choppy in the shot transitions. It works best in a fade montage that catches Robin’s disorientation as he enters the city, just like a real pig that cares more about the forest than about metropolitan progression. As he makes pasta dough, calm string music plays while the flour scatters onto his pig like snow, and this ASMR cooking comes back with a relaxing prep of chicken lit by gentle, warm lighting. These intentionally closeup moments indicate what these men really care the most about, and how the things they really should care most about ought to be more like what an animal would care about.
Plus, the direction is on-point when it comes to blocking the actors with the use of confusing darkness in mind, the elements point to whatever is the most important object in the frame to focus on. Director Michael Sarnoski conveys how Robin needs to ripen like a persimmon before he can get is pig back, as you can tell from how permanently wounded his face is. The makeup design for him is done accordingly to make him look unmade so he can bloom into something else that starts off unflattering, and may even grow into something that looks even more unflattering. Yet with the life he lived with his pig, it may be time for him to seek out another type of existence. No other director besides Sarnoski could have depicted that specific complex internal conflict in such a deceptively simple way.
You may not want to watch Pig ever again, but it’s not the goal of this work of art to have replay value, it gets its job done all within a first-time watch. After you see a man’s empty hunt, you see your own hunt for what little responsibility you’re given, and how that responsibility is what helps you to finally find yourself.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!