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It’s depressingly apt that Michael Sarnoski’s feature debut Pig went overlooked at this year’s Academy Awards (and perhaps just as well—any hypothetical recognition would have been overshadowed by Will Smith physically assaulting a comedian). Pig is about the overlooked, the unnoticed, the forgotten. A doomed journey through the underbelly of a glittering, rotten industry, Portland’s high-end food scene, it’s also not much of a stretch to apply Pig’s withering disdain elsewhere. 

Rob (Nicolas Cage) is a recluse living in the Oregon wilderness, his sole companion an unnamed pig. He and the pig forage for truffles, which Rob sells to a luxury ingredient supplier, Amir (Alex Wolff). There’s a running joke involving Amir listening to a classical music station, its pompous host droning on about the “timelessness” of great works. Great works remain great only so long as there are people to remember and appreciate them. Rob is in possession of such a cassette tape, the tape containing music too painful to revisit. Rob’s monastic existence is not bucolic. One night, he gets conked on the head and his pig is stolen, the perfect setup for a John Wickian bloodbath, and Cage, the perfect avatar for unhinged mayhem this scenario might call for.

But Pig is not John Wick, and asks of Cage a performance far removed from Wicker Man-style meme fodder. Cage’s brand of explosive energy is a lethal tool in the hands of the right director (Bad Lieutenant, Mandy), but in recent, financially unstable times, can drift into Christopher Walken-like self parody (it’s yet to be seen where the uber-meta The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent will land). In Pig, he’s melancholic and blunt, eroded by time and stripped to core components. At a lean 92 minutes, the same is true of Pig. Not one moment is extraneous or wasted. 

We learn that in a past life Rob was a legendary chef. At one point he wearily notes that we only get to care about a few things. Rob cares about food. Or rather, he cares about people who care about food. My favorite uncommented upon moment involves Rob picking up a baked good from a tray recently prepared by an equal, setting it down, and then picking up another to give to a friend. What Rob saw or didn’t see in one pastry over another isn’t for us to know; what matters is that he saw it. Bearded, disheveled, bloodied, Cage is playing not so much a human as a culinary elemental from a Miyazaki epic, awoken to level the industrial horror that has erected itself during his slumber. 

Rob looks for his pig. He navigates a world obsessed with status and incapable of remembering him, or, if remembering, believing him dead. In the most devastating set piece of the film, Rob confronts a former prep cook, now heading a pretentious establishment serving deconstructed local somesuch. Rob’s memory runs preternaturally deep, and he asks this sellout what became of the pub he once dreamed of. “Nobody wants pubs around here,” is the answer, because they’re “terrible investments.”    

Pig is exceptional, and I will eagerly watch whatever movies Michael Sarnoski goes on to make. He’s been tapped by Paramount to direct an installment of A Quiet Place, a movie I found profoundly asinine. I hope it’s something Sarnoski cares about, but I can’t blame him if it isn’t. Pubs are poor investments, I hear.

Pig (2021)

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPA Rating: R

Streaming: Hulu

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Myles Mikulic holds a BA in Film and TV from Cal State University Northridge, an MA in History and Archival Studies from Claremont Graduate University, and is a History doctoral candidate at the same....