New Pollution #7: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Swine
It’s a dicey proposition to second-guess the opinions of others. Still I’m tempted to speculate as to why Pig, of which I am not at all fond, is garnering so much praise from my colleagues. No doubt the story of a certified artiste — Nicolas Cage’s culinary genius-turned-mountain man recluse, Rob Feld — turning his back on his cheapened profession to live a more humble life resonates with those of us who find both the craft of the written word and the business of passing judgment so consistently debased. Rob is an ideal avatar for such grievances: Outwardly quiet, inwardly seething, and the owner of a living, breathing metaphor (a truffle-hunting swine of such pure porcine perfection) in which he can invest the vestiges of his love. That is until the animal is stolen one night from Rob’s woodland cabin and he heads to the big city, with arrogant, high-end restaurant supplier Amir (Alex Wolff) as his guide, to find the culprits and get back his immortal boarloved.
Part of the structural appeal of Pig is that the savagery one might expect, particularly from a latter-day Cage vehicle, never comes. The closest we get is at an underground fight club for kitchen workers, where Rob stoically takes punches like a modern-day Buddha. What is he trying to prove? Maybe just that he can bear the pain of being alive, as long as there is something to chase, some symbol of piety amid all the literal and figurative profanity. His journey ultimately proves to be one of divestment; put all your hopes and dreams in an animate being, and you will live to see it lost. Yet this isn’t quite the knotty parable of virile grief and melancholic release that it aims to be.
The promotional materials promised John Wick with a pig (not a selling point for me, given my loathing of that thuggish, monotonously violent action series), though the vengeance Rob takes is almost exclusively of the make-you-cry-by-poking-holes-in-your-shallow-capitalist-ethos variety. (A pretentious chef played by David Knell and a wealthy community leader played by Adam Arkin — the latter of whom has an Anton Ego-esque breakdown over a meal to die for — bear the brunt of Rob’s Zen reproachfulness.) Much of Pig takes place in and around the Portland, Oregon foodie scene, a milieu for which director/cowriter Michael Sarnoski clearly has a feel. However, cinematographer Patrick Scola shoots the movie in the way of so many modern indies, with a sickly color palette and dim lighting that prosaically emphasizes the natural environs over people’s faces. (A good friend of mine termed this aesthetic “Vimeo-link Cinema.”) Keeping Cage and those expressive eyes of his in constant shadow negates much of the story’s emotional undercurrents. Yet he’s a gifted enough physical performer that individual gestures — as when Rob trades a small container of food-cart grub as if it was high-value currency — resonate with a subtle, sublime fervor.
I still think the mournful tenor of the project is bullshit, appealing mostly to a regressive, reactionary, dewy-eyed defeatism that’s too much in vogue these days. The truth of working in an art-form whose moment (if it ever genuinely had one) has passed is much more complex. The life chooses you and you choose the life. You stand up some days, you fall on others. You’re in and out of the spotlight. You endure until you don’t — and hopefully your last moment comes only as a result of those inevitable forces over which we truly have no control. Pig sees one half of the equation, but not the other, and it makes its protagonist the straw-man embodiment of a smug moral code where not seeing the forest for the trees (indeed, sequestering yourself among them because, in the words of Morbo, “DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!”) is a laudable ambition and endgame.