The last Nicolas Cage movie I reviewed, the early 2020 release Color Out of Space, was a treat if only because the uneven sci-fi horror film lets Cage go literally wild, descending into madness as his family fights for their lives against aliens haunting their family farm. Pig is Cage’s latest film in which he is a reclusive truffle hunter whose only companion is a talented pig that helps him sniff out the elusive fungi. The actor gets to channel a completely different side of himself and in the process yet again reminds anyone who’s dared to forget that he is, in fact, one of his generation’s most talented, versatile actors able to carry any film he stars in on his more-than-capable back. Marking writer/director Michael Sarnoski’s feature film debut, the reality is that Cage creates a mysterious, layered character in a film more than worthy of his talents, as Sarnoski’s script turns the trendy into the tumultuous and reveals the vapid reality of a grueling industry.
It’s no spoiler to share the pivotal moment of Pig‘s early scenes; as we get to know Cage (we won’t find out his character’s name until later) and his bovine companion, their life seems humble and unassuming enough. Without much explanation, we learn that it’s just the two of them in a small hut secluded in the woods, spending their days hunting for the delicacy buried deep under ground. Fans of the recent documentary The Truffle Hunters will recognize their solitary routine, one that cannot be duplicated by machines or otherwise “streamlined” in these late-capitalist times of ours. There’s even a brief appearance by a truffle buyer (Alex Wolff), a snake oil salesman type who, getting out of his sports car in a slick, tailored suit, represents everything icky about the material world Cage and his pig have left behind.
Our first clue Rob, as we learn he’s called, may have a bit of a backstory is the meal we see him make for himself and the pig, something far more involved than your average forest recluse would be able to pull together. They eat together silently, their bond as clear and real as that of any human and their animal companion. It’s such a quiet existence that the moment their world is shattered becomes all the more violent in its execution. In the middle of the night, Rob is punched out and the pig squeals for dear life as it’s covered in a heavy, old cloth and dragged away, not a word from the captors doing the deed. Heartbroken and beyond devastated, Cage apparently has two choices: disappear entirely into his grief, or find his pig.
Thankfully for us, he chooses the latter.
Still bloody and bludgeoned from the attack that separated him from his pig, Rob makes his way into Portland, where he meets up with his buyer, Amir, and sets out on the weird and surprisingly heartfelt journey to be reunited with his companion. As is the case with the real truffle industry, everyone knows everyone in Rob’s world, so the paths down which he’ll have to hunt for the pig are few and interconnected. We soon learn Rob has a deep and storied past in Portland, stretching from knowledge of underground societies to the “in” chefs of the moment in the modern restaurant scene. Through it all, he emerges as a man not at all as removed from the world as he seems, but perhaps more connected to what truly matters than any of us. At one point in his search, he confirms for Amir what we already know: it’s not about the truffles, he could find those without the pig. This is about so much more.
Pig is, in many ways, an ideal independent film where production values are concerned: a limited number of characters in limited, interior settings, without any major special effects to speak of (unless Cage’s bloodied, mussy hair and face is considered special make-up work). Instead, Sarnoski (who shares story credit with Vanessa Block) creates something captivatingly original, set in a world just familiar enough to set a viewer at ease as they go on a journey unlike anything else. And with a vulnerable, insightful Cage at its center (versus the many other versions of Cage we’ve seen over the years), the film ultimately transcends into an unexpected meditation on how we choose to live our lives and the lengths we’ll go to preserve what we’ve built.
Pig opens theatrically in Chicago on Friday, July 16; Music Box Theatre begins early screenings Thursday, July 15.