“I don’t fuck my pig,” asserts Rob (Nicholas Cage), the pig’s hermit-like, truffle hunting, aging owner, about halfway through this sneakily complex indie film. And we believe him, though the idea isn’t absurd. Rob’s wife has died—plunging him into seclusion in a cabin in the Oregon back country—and he and the pig have a relationship. She helps him find valuable truffles and make a living; he calls her “girl.” In an early scene, they share the mushroom tart that Rob lovingly and meticulously prepares. And “girl,” while a pig, is a cuddly, furry, somewhat dog-like creature. When Rob announces, “I don’t need my pig to find truffles,” the emotional valence transcends the commercial. “Girl” is Rob’s surrogate companion—and could be Rob’s surrogate lover.
When “girl” is stolen in a quick and violent nighttime snatch-and-grab, “Pig” becomes what it is for most of its length: a detective story and a mystery. The detective story—the effort to find the pig (“I want my pig back”) has its “buddy” aspects; Rob is joined in the endeavor by Amir (Alex Wolff), 30 years his junior, an impatient, often irritated buyer and seller of truffles—a version, until he isn’t, of Roman Roy, the bad boy of TV’s “Succession.”
The “mystery” is simpler: who is Rob, and what was Rob? In the too-slow first third of this 92-minute film, we learn he can take physical punishment, that he is a no-nonsense, straight-ahead, low-affect, determined sort of guy, and that, despite a decade in the woods, he still knows something about Portland’s unsavory underworld. That mushroom tart, complete with a perfectly smooth crust, is an easy-to-miss hint that Rob is, and was, into food and the world of food, in ways that will shape the narrative and create two emotionally satisfying scenes for which most viewers will be unprepared.
While Wolff’s performance likely won’t earn him an Oscar nomination (as Cage’s restrained intensity should), the film could have been titled “The Education of Amir,” because the teacher/student (and less obvious father/son) dynamic in the relationship is palpable and significant. In several scenes that some will find overly didactic—but which also introduce ideas that give the film contemporary relevance—Rob will teach Amir, Amir’s father Darius (Adam Arkin), who is also in the truffle business, and Chef Finway (David Knell), about the critical importance of living “authentically.” For Rob, that means caring about things other than money and doing what you really want to do with your life. Lessons learned during Covid—the search for a job that has meaning, the “I quit” phenomenon—resonate in “Pig.”
Lessons learned during Covid—the search for a job that has meaning, the “I quit” phenomenon—resonate in ‘Pig.’
Rob also believes (and here he may be overstepping the bounds of reason) that every person harbors an essence. In Amir’s presence, Chef Finway will be reminded of his: that he once wanted to own a pub serving liver and Scottish eggs, rather than a trendy, elite restaurant specializing in making the “local” become “foreign.” Less convincing is Rob’s existentialist rant—“We don’t have to care”—based on the premise that a flood or earthquake or some other catastrophe will usher in the inevitable apocalypse. All the more reason to be authentic, while one can.
On a personal level, authenticity means tapping into one’s emotions, understanding one’s most profound feelings, caring, even when “we don’t have to care.” Amir’s emotional development is gradual. Chef Finway’s—and that of Amir’s father—is more immediate and perhaps, as a result, less credible. Rob undergoes his own transformation; we are led to believe, even if not convinced, that it takes time for him to acknowledge his emotional attachment to “girl.”
First-feature director (with shared writing credit) Michael Sarnoski knows when to season his indie production with a dash of Hollywood. Still, some cheap drama scenes and caricature acting by minor characters detract from an otherwise fine script with a riveting performance by Cage, whom you’ll hardly recognize. In a time of pig movies (2020’s “The Truffle Hunters” set in Italy and “Gunda” from Norway) and in a tradition of food films (1987’s “Babette’s Feast” and 1996’s “Little Big Night”), “Pig” holds its own. Bring on the tart.
Stars: 3.5 (out of 4)
Director: Michael Sarnoski
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin, David Knell
Runtime: 92 minutes
Country: United Kingdom, United States
Other Awards: To date, 2 wins and 6 other nominations
Availability: Has been in theaters; streaming on Hulu and Apple TV; for rent or purchase on many sites, including Amazon, Google Play and Redbox; see JustWatch here for full access.
Lead image: Nicholas Cage as Rob, right, in the wilds of Oregon with his truffle-hunting pig, “Girl.”