Nicolas Cage is undoubtedly an enigmatic presence in the film industry, with an oeuvre so varied that he manages to resist being successfully pigeonholed into any restrictive category. He has managed to complicate his legacy yet again with an unusually meditative performance in Michael Sarnoski’s latest project, Pig, where he plays the role of a reclusive chef who has retreated into the depths of the wilderness.
From its opening moments, Pig evokes memories of Thoreau and Emerson by showing us a transcendentalist vision of Nicolas Cage in the vast forests of Oregon. Patrick Scola’s mesmerising cinematography perfectly captures the symphony of natural elements, shifting seamlessly from flowing water to rising smoke. Cage exists in quiet harmony with his surroundings, relying on the company of an adorable truffle pig.
Sarnoski delves deep into the popular expectations associated with a star like Cage as well as the revenge thriller genre in an attempt to deconstruct the voyeuristic thirst for cinematic violence. When Cage’s pig is kidnapped by rival truffle hunters, we immediately jump to the conclusion that this is going to be yet another John Wick reboot. However, Pig takes completely different directions to the surprise of everyone waiting for a bloody resolution.
Pig transforms into a meta-textual commentary on the nature of stardom and the dizzying artificiality of modernity. Cage’s character – Robin Feld – has a rich past of his own, a past where he was happily married and was one of the most celebrated chefs in Portland. Sadly, he renounced all of it when his wife passed away and decided to hide from the world as well as from himself in the middle of the forest.
“I do feel that I’ve gone into my own wilderness and that I’ve left the small town that is Hollywood,” Cage said in an interview. “I don’t know exactly why Rob left his stardom. It’s never fully explained, and I like that about the movie. But as for me, I don’t know if I’d want to go back. I don’t know if I’d want to go and make another Disney movie. It would be terrifying. It’s a whole different climate. There’s a lot of fear there.”
Accompanied by his timid customer (brilliantly portrayed by Alex Wolff), who lives in the shadow of a ruthless, wealthy father (Adam Arkin), Rob decides to re-enter society and even walks around the city with open wounds with one mission on his mind. Along the way, he rediscovers who he was and the people whose lives he had changed with his masterful culinary skills. There are violent disruptions fuelled by rage which consume Cage, but his relatively silent contemplations are refreshingly beautiful.
It has to be mentioned that Pig has its fair share of bizarre narrative elements, ranging from a Fight Club for hotel workers and random eco-critical ramblings about the apocalypse to Cage quietly declaring: “I don’t fuck my pig.” In spite of its occasional oddities, the film comes across as an enchantingly non-violent refutation of genre-based tropes. It draws on the foundations of heist films, action thrillers and revenge dramas only to say no to their derivative excesses.
Sarnoski’s work is an impressive, well-crafted reflection on the media’s relationship with violence, told through a visually delightful parable about a hermit and his pig. It conducts a psychological re-evaluation by asking us whether it would have been better to dismiss the kidnapped pig as Schrödinger’s pig instead of embarking on a quest that yields nothing.