Here’s the thing – we need to talk about Pig, Nic Cage’s recent release, but it’s impossible to do so without spoilers. So before the spoilers kick in (you’ll be warned when), I’ll just say this: Pig is what cinema – nay, the world – needs right now.
For more than one reason. I enjoyed a bunch of movies this year, but so far the two that’ve really stayed with me are Pig and The Green Knight – the latter mainly due to its impressive cinematography.
Pig is subtle. It won’t beat you over the head with its foreshadowing. It won’t explain why a certain song is playing at a certain time. It takes that fundamental risk that subtle films must take – the risk that a lot of your effort may not even be noticed and the finer points of these meticulously crafted scenes go over the head of 80% of the audience.
No shame in that – it went over my head, too! But like I said, it stays with you. Over time, through talking to people and watching other critics, Pig came to be my favourite film this year.
There’s also one non-spoilery scene in which Cage questions a fellow chef if this trendy, upmarket business is what he really wants to be doing. He goes through the full emotional scale in one sitting. It’s brutal. I’ve heard some critics call it the best scene of the year.
If you want to just watch it without spoiling anything, you can head over to Madman’s site where it’ll display where Pig is currently showing. New South Wales folks can still catch it in the cinema as the state returns to normalcy. Regional Victoria seems to have times as well. Melbourne, stay strong! Not long now, hopefully.
WARNING: SPOILERS ARE COMING!!
Pig Spoilers, Ho! Readers, Ye Be Warned. Yarrrr.
A big part of what makes Pig work so well is the context surrounding it. I’m sure this is intentional. We’ve had the John Wick movies with Keanu Reeves, and just prior to Pig‘s release, we had Nobody with Bob Odenkirk. Later we’ll have Old Henry, starring Tim Blake Nelson, which has already been released in the U.S..
Noticing a pattern? A string of movies, perhaps even a subgenre of action, featuring steadily more unassuming protagonists with dangerous, forgotten histories. They tried to leave that life behind. But when the bad guys poke the bear enough, the bear gets mad. Then the action movie gets action-y.
That’s where Pig slots in.
From the outset, Pig looks like Nic Cage’s take on the John Wick genre. Substitute a dog for a truffle pig, and boom, there’s your motivation for a Cage rampage. But it never goes there. There are multiple points in the movie where everything builds up to an action sequence, and it just never happens.
He’s portrayed as a big man, with a big history. A big name in the underground fighting scene. He has his livelihood and his best friend taken from him. And when he goes to the underground arena to get some information, there’s a high bidder to take him on. To beat the legend.
Then, he just… takes a beating. He wasn’t going to fight at all. This is a place where rough sleepers go to get beat down for money by restaurant staff. JFC. To get his pig back, it wasn’t about the pain he was willing to inflict, it was about the pain he was willing to take.
Later, when he takes on the main villain, he asks his compadre to get a list of items for him. What’s the plan? Is he building a bomb? Is it guns? Poison, perhaps? He says a last word to the only woman in his life. This could be the end for him.
But no, he’s merely putting together a meal that will take the villain back to the last memorable evening he had with his late wife. The tastes, smells, wine are all the exact same as what he described as the perfect dinner with her. This brings the villain to tears. It reminds him of what he was like before he was a monster.
After all that build-up, the solution was empathy. Appealing to the best version of the person. Even the sociopath. The way Pig constantly fools you into thinking now it’s going to go John Wick, but never does, is genius.
I haven’t spoken too much about the nuts and bolts of the film, but artistically, Hollywood could use a bit more of the subtlety used in Pig. I don’t mind thinking about a movie for a while afterwards, and I don’t even mind when elements go over my head. I still appreciate the subtlety and the craft.
Call me a big ol’ cheeseball, but I also think this is what the world needs right now. Empathetic solutions when you had every excuse to take the combative one. Pig steel mans its opposing argument, giving the protagonist every reason in the world to go nuclear, like Dostoyevsky gives Raskolnikov every reason in the world to murder. But Pig goes in a different direction, surprising viewers multiple times within the same flick, pulling multiple switcheroos.