Pig – Edinburgh International Film Festival 2021- Film Review
A man and his love for his pig is essentially the subject matter for Pig starring Nicolas Cage. Yet, this summary would disservice the film as it showcases and reminds us of Nicolas Cage’s tremendous acting range within a drama. Cage plays Robin Fedel who discovers that places where everybody knows your name may not always be ones from which to derive happiness as he is forced to take a road trip down memory lane when he is unwittingly separated from his pig. As such, the film changes direction to captivate and enthral in a multi-layered, emotional tale of Robin’s single-minded mission to be re-united with his pet. It is a slow burning tale of life and loss with an impressive delivery by Cage as the stoic Robin.
Pig is an acute portrayal of isolation as Robin is based in the wilderness with his truffle hunting pig as his close companion. It is a simple life led which is reduced effectively to the bare necessities for food, sleep and minimum interaction, which a non-verbal pig provides. Despite the beautiful, naturalistic cinematography with idyllic visuals of streams and slender trees within the Oregon wilderness, there is the unshakeable conviction that Robin predictably lives off the grid as an avoidance tactic to escape reality and eschew convention.
In what is initially a two hander, involving man and his pig, Part One of this sombre tale enables Cage to demonstrate his acting ability fully in scenes with minimal exposition. Nevertheless, Pig’s slow revelations may test the patience of some audiences but like a fine wine, it is worth the wait as the film delivers a rich, unexpected emotional complexity and sinister undertones. Robin unwittingly leaves his sanctuary in the wilderness to re-immerse himself within city life resulting in a change of tack in subsequent chapters within the film to reward audiences, particularly those admirers of vigilante style road trips. This nuanced tale’s refusal to commit to a genre makes it all the more charming despite its blunt moments of philosophical musings.
First time feature director Michael Sarnoski weaves a tale full of sumptuousness and suspense without any indication given as to its ultimate destination. Pig is therefore extremely riveting in this respect as Robin’s every move is followed with exciting reveals. Robin’s passion for food, whilst with his pig, is hinted at in earlier parts of the film, which have descriptions on the title cards reminiscent of chapters within a book. This is very much Cage’s film as we see him transition from lovingly sifting flour in sumptuous slow-motion scenes to being at the brunt of street fighting scenes in his portrayal of Robin. His interaction with Alex Woolf of Hereditary fame is also amusing as it resembles a gruff father-son relationship and those brief moments of tenderness from Robin are delightful to watch.
Just as in Lord of the Flies, a pig was a symbol and an allegorical figure, the same could be said for Pig. As layers of Robin’s persona are unravelled so too is his connection to his pig and his carefully constructed coping strategies for loss. Pig is philosophical in this sense with interesting proverbs uttered, indicating Robin’s state of mind, which ultimately provide food for thought. However, there is still insufficient preparation for the gut-wrenching scenes in Pig’s denouement. Look away or squeal and you’ll miss their brilliance.
Pig is a very impressive, assured debut from Sarnoski with a fascinating character study deserving of praise. Sarnoski elicits such a magnetic performance from Cage as he escapes from the shadows of the more experimental films in which he starred. Pig differs to such films as a meditative portrait emphasising humanity and our relationship with grief. Pig demonstrates that despite a desire to escape or deny our feelings, music or food can trigger those sensations of loss and shake our core when we least expect.
Pig will surprise its audience as it is both insightful and incisive. Beyond its compelling narrative there equally lies an endearing portrayal of an isolated man finding hope through an animal companion. Pig ultimately acts as that testament to the power of resilience and love and as such is a profound reminder.