PIG is an unusual new Nicolas Cage joint that I was happy to have as my second post-vaccination theatrical experience. But this one is about as different from an F9 type spectacle as can be achieved by science. When you see the trailer or hear the premise (somebody steals Nic Cage’s truffle pig and he goes to the city to get it back) you might think about TOM YUM GOONG/THE PROTECTOR (where somebody steals Tony Jaa’s baby elephant and he goes to the city to get it back) or maybe JOHN WICK (where somebody kills Keanu’s dog and he goes on a rampage to get back at them). The truth is that it only shares the emotional center of those ideas (people form bonds with and assign meaning to their animal companions) – it’s decidedly not an action movie or even a revenge thriller. It’s a slow burn character piece and parable that doesn’t even have much violence, and will probly be pretty boring to some people, especially if they came in with the wrong idea. But it was just what I wanted.

Cage’s character Rob is a loner who lives in a cabin in the woods somewhere outside of Portland, Oregon. He seems very enamored of his nameless pig, who comes when he whistles and helps him dig up truffles in the forest. When he makes himself a “rustic mushroom tart” for dinner he shares it with her. The rest of the truffles he puts in a cooler to sell to the young hot shot Amir (Alex Wolff, HEREDITARY), who drives in every Thursday in his bitchin’ yellow Camaro. It feels like a drug transaction. Amir tries to make conversation, but Rob doesn’t so much as grunt.

Then one night someone kicks the door in, knocks Rob over the head and steals the pig. He wakes up in daylight, his drying blood sticking him to the floor like glue. He pathetically tries to whistle, just to make sure. But she’s gone.

He doesn’t have a phone, and his shitty old pick up truck doesn’t run long enough to get him far. He makes it to a diner where he asks for someone who they say died ten years ago. So he’s a little out of touch.

He calls Amir, who tells him this isn’t his problem, but reluctantly drives Rob through a trail of truffle hunters and chefs to find the responsible party. It’s told like a criminal underworld story, but people are only fighting over scarce ingredients, and the only serious crime is the pignapping.

There’s a certain amount of pulpy exaggeration. Rob combines Amir’s connections with his past knowledge to get into back rooms leading to a literal underground fighting circuit – a place where people fight not for rich degenerates, but for restaurant workers. (I guess they deserve some kind of perks!) But don’t expect any real Kumite action, this is just one strange detail of this world.

Both Rob and Amir are being coy about who they are. Rob became a recluse after his wife died, but before that he was a brilliant and legendary Portland chef. In fact, so legendary that Amir, when he hears his full name, realizes this is the guy who once cooked a meal that his parents found so delicious they actually got along that night. For Rob’s part, he hasn’t mention that his dad Darius (Adam Arkin, HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER) is “Portland’s own rare foods king,” and that they are bitter rivals. He has to pull some strings to get Rob reservations for a restaurant Darius sells to, and then is scared he’ll get in trouble for being there.

I love that Rob returns to this world he abandoned with absolutely no shame or self consciousness about what he has become. He sits in a place that serves food smoked in a glass bowl with a burning pine cone and he doesn’t care that he’s this hairy mountain man with blood all over his shirt and head. We know he doesn’t own a shower, and he has not cleaned up at all since arriving in town, so I’m guessing you can smell him from a distance. Seeing this mess of a man intrude into high class spaces makes for a funny image and some good reactions, but I think it also represents what’s under the surface – he doesn’t care about anything superficial anymore, has no interest in appearances, and doesn’t hide that he is damaged.

Amir, on the other hand, is all about his clothes and his car, inside which he listens to an audiobook about classical music, trying, I assume, to fast-track some of the type of cultural knowledge that would seem impressive to his dad, or to people impressed by his dad. The narrator talks about “important men.” Rob tries to turn it off a couple times. He doesn’t give a shit about seeming important.

There’s a little bit of a magical realism here to the power of food, the abilities of a chef and of this particular chef. I suppose that we can bring up JOHN WICK again to note that people react to the legend of Chef Robin Feld with an awe not unlike that of the Baba Yaga. In one of the best scenes, a fancypants chef (David Knell, TOTAL RECALL) tells Rob that he actually worked briefly as his line cook – Rob not only remembers, but recalls way more about it than the guy did, and within a couple of minutes makes him question his entire life and philosophy of cooking. Rob recognizes before he does that he’s drifted from what he originally loved about cooking and is crushing his soul with this trendy bullshit.

I think a fair criticism of PIG would be that we have seen a pretty sizeable number of movies where there’s a guy who’s lonely and mysterious and it turns out it’s because his wife died and he never got over it. In fact we have seen so many of them that it’s hard for such a story not to lose some of its punch and feel a little bit like a cliche. But for me PIG overcame that when it became clear that losing his wife was not the thing they added to make Rob sympathetic, it’s the specific topic of the movie.

It would also be fair to say that these days there are as many movies “about loss” as about super heroes, and even as someone who lost both his parents in the last several years and benefited from the catharsis of everything from MIDSOMMAR to fuckin BUMBLEBEE, I’m starting to wonder if filmatists need to cool it a little bit with that topic. Fortunately I found what this one says about it to be, while less visceral than some of the others, ultimately wiser.

This is gonna require A BIG FUCKIN SPOILER to discuss, so here it is: Rob does not get his pig back. Turns out they didn’t know what they were doing when they stole her and she died. An accident. We don’t see this happen. It’s done with. There’s nothing he can do about it, and no point in taking it out on anyone. At first he wishes he never even came looking for her, because then he could still tell himself she was alive. But, as Amir says, she still wouldn’t be.

(spoiler paragraph #2) So he just goes home and he listens to a tape of his wife singing a song for him. And that’s it. It felt a little odd to me because we’re used to stories — in fact, we love stories — with artificial solutions. Solve the mystery, avenge the death, save the pig, whatever. If a story ends in a less satisfying way than you expect then yeah, maybe that’s more realistic, but it’s still less satisfying – and by the way we don’t need to be told that life isn’t satisfying. No fucking shit, dude. But this one really worked for me when I thought about what that means for “a story about loss.” Because he lost his wife just like he lost his pig and there’s no changing or avenging or feeling better about either of those things. But in losing his wife he seems to have found himself, jettisoning the things in his life that don’t actually matter to him. Darius lost his wife and turned into a bastard, but Rob turned into a weirdo who’s at peace with himself out in the woods digging up mushrooms and cooking them for himself. He has found a purity. Earlier in the movie he pretended that the value of his pig was her ability to sniff out truffles, but the truth is he knows how to do it without her. Actually, he just loved her. The value of pigs, and food, and other things in life, has nothing to do with transactional value.

(spoiler paragraph #3) And I think he teaches Amir a lesson or two about life and I think he even has a real friendship with him now. But I personally I think it would be nice of him to take a shower just as a courtesy to him especially if he ever gets in his car again.

(end of spoilers)

This is a great performance by Cage even though it’s entirely un-mega. You know I love the mega, but this is one of the other sides of him. Sad, subdued, sometimes vulnerable. Still funny at times, and capable of intimidating people when needed, but there’s not a drop of Castor Troy in him.

Writer/director Michael Sarnoski (who shares a story by credit with Vanessa Block) has done some shorts and web series, but this is his feature debut. And it’s a hell of a start.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 19th, 2021 at 6:54 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

58 Responses to “Pig”

  1. Maybe instead of Universal’s failed Dark Universe of classic monsters we can get a franchise of “they took a retired badass’s pet/ relative and they will have it/ them back/ avenged.”

    So Liam Neeson looking for his daughter, Keanu Reeves looking for his dog, and Nic Cage looking for his pig, etc., teaming up together.

    That’s my brainfart for the day, time for lunch.

  2. Has anyone else read On Directing Film by David Mamet? It’s a transcription of a (fake I think, or at least massively embellished) student workshopping of a story called Pig.

    This is different, but now whenever I re-read that book I’ll picture Nicolas Cage as the farmer.

  3. I’m sure this is a solid movie if you’re game for it but, sadly, I have to admit that I’m one of those philistines that would have thrown his grandmother through a plate glass window to see “JOHN WICK but with Nic Cage and a pig” but has almost no interest at all in “Sad chef loses pet and doesn’t murder anybody.” I could still maybe get down with it if I was in the right mood but it taking place in any kind of mileau that could be described as “culinary” just kills it for me. Anything that has to do with food bores me to tears. Food is something you put in your body so it doesn’t die. Talking about it is like having a conversation about oxygen. Oh, you like food? How fascinating. You and literally every other carbon-based lifeform on this planet. I also actively dislike restaurants, because they combine at least five of my least favorite things: 1. being surrounded by people; 2. overpaying for something I could get cheaper elsewhere; 3. being forced to make smalltalk; 4. fabricated politeness; and 5. witnessing horrific systemic economic abuse in real time. One of my absolute favorite things about the pandemic was never being forced to pay $13.95 for a fuckin’ veggie burger while some poor, tired single mom shucks and jives for tips. I could never see the inside of another restaurant for as long as I live and die a happy man.

    All this to say I’m really more of a WILLY’S WONDERLAND guy.

  4. I kinda expected it to be a victim of the Nic Cage memefication, where “Cage looks for his stolen pig” comes with a very special kind of expectation, even if the trailer tells you that it might be more on the somber drama side of things. Not sure if this one will ever jump very high on my watchlist, but it does sound interesting.

  5. I haven’t seen WILLY’S WONDERLAND but can’t imagine I would find it harder to sit through than MANDY or COLOR OUT OF SPACE. It is starting to feel a bit like I wished for better Cage movies on a monkey’s paw, because, sure, they are “better”, but…

    I’ll give PIG a shot once convenient though.

  6. Below Average Hairline

    July 19th, 2021 at 11:17 am

    I saw this in a theater yesterday and, honestly, there’s no real reason it should work. Bits of exposition are dropped in at awkward moments and in heavy-handed ways, there’s a hazy visual look, and an [SPOILER] underground fight club that doesn’t lead to anything, it’s just flavor and a random bit of violence to liven things up. There’s a predictable 10 minute set-up for the key “meal*,” and despite the fact that Adam Arkin’s kid is persona non grata in his dad’s life, he has the keys to the palatial estate, and Adam Arkin doesn’t even notice they’re cooking a meal for him[/END SPOILER]… One key scene never even gives the actress that Cage is talking to a close-up, and as result, it’s not clear til the end of that scene if [SPOILER] she’s his long-lost daughter, or just a former employee [/SPOILER]. The pretentious chapter titles are like someone trying to “elevate” their material to Lars Von Trier level, or, at least, a sub-par episode of Frasier. Cage visits his old home and it feels like there was some key deleted material here. On and on there are missteps, and even when there’s a bit of energy, as there is when Cage confronts an old co-worker at his restaurant, it seems random and totally out of character for Cage to talk that much.

    And yet… Sometimes a movie works despite all the obvious flaws, or, perhaps because of them. There’s a whole “the wizard is on his quest and must wield his many potions” feel to the movie, so it’s like a fairly tale by way of Leave No Trace.

    The SO and I were watching the UHD of Alien the other night (if you don’t have the 4K disc of this, you are missing out) and it occurred to me that when that movie was a hit everyone took the wrong lessons, especially when they tried to rip it off. Alien works because of the atmosphere and the pacing. The movie is underwritten, in terms of the characters, the kills are often unconvincing (especially the 2nd half and the cheesy “puppet hanging outside the spaceship by a string” conclusion), and some of the details are utterly nonsensical, such as why Ian Holm thinks shoving a magazine down Sigourney’s throat is an effective way to kill her or what exactly the point of the wet chain room is where Harry Dean Stanton’s gets killed. There’s nothing good you can steal from these moments, because that’s not the why the movie is great. All you can do is steal the confined setting, the design of the alien, and the level of violence. You can’t replicate the specificity of the mood and the tone.

    The same is true for Pig. From a critical perspective, it gets a huge swath of things wrong. But your brain deactivates and succumbs to it and, in the end, you simply do not care.

    * [SPOILER] This bit would be truly laughable in any other movie. “You know how I’m going to get back at the villain for kidnapping my loved one? I’m gonna make him a kick-ass meal, and hopefully, it will trigger some painful emotional memories.” [/SPOILER]

  7. I still think THE BANANA SPLITS MOVIE was the better killer animatronic puppets movie but WILLIE’S WONDERLAND is fun. It’s just meat-and-potatoes seige horror with a thin layer of wackiness on top. It’s not trying to be “elevated” or a mindfuck or anything. It’s closer to NIGHT OF THE DEMONS than MANDY. I think you could probably handle it.

  8. Thomas Canilgia

    July 19th, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    I love Nic Cage movies and I love pigs, so this seems like a go for me.

  9. Thomas Caniglia

    July 19th, 2021 at 12:51 pm

    Oh wait no, I just read the spoiler. Nevermind. No Pig for me.

  10. I was similiarly lukewarm about the prospect of yet another grim and slow-paced drama with genre dressing about loss and/or trauma, but this movie really won me over. It has a quiet, warm humanism that almost reminds me of Hirokazu Kore-eda and, unlike most of it’s comtemporaries, has something to say that goes beyond “boy, grief/trauma sure is a bitch.”
    Despite the occasional gem like this one, I’d still happily agree to a 10 year ban of films about loss and/or trauma. The well is pretty much dry at this point.

  11. “This bit would be truly laughable in any other movie. “You know how I’m going to get back at the villain for kidnapping my loved one? I’m gonna make him a kick-ass meal, and hopefully, it will trigger some painful emotional memories.”

    Why is this so laughable? It made for one of the best scenes in the already amazing RATAOUILLE. Food can be a transformative experience. The gastronomic experience of a dish hitting your taste buds and triggering a surfeit of emotions needs to be experienced to be believed. I recall trips to India as an adult, and one hit of my grandmother’s sublime fish curry bringing forth a kaleidoscope of boyhood images; holidays, a game of football with my cousins, a dip in the river, that gorgeous distant cousin I crushed on, noisy buses, serene temples…

    So what I’m actually trying to say is, Majestyk is a Crusty Curmudgeon in urgent need of an 8 year old Asian American Wilderness Explorer and a floating house:-)

  12. I’m down for this once it hits streaming. Nic Cage for me is Bruce Willis in permanent reverse: My esteem for the man increases with the years and the seemingly endless supply of DTVs coming off the assembly line. He’s incapable of phoning it in. And if foraging in the landfill of forgettable dreck unearths a JOE, MANDY or PIG, then I’ll make like a world class truffle pig and just keep burrowing.

  13. I really was hoping for JOHN WICK but homeless and with pig. Oh well. Also I liked THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE *shrugs*

    Dude still got it where it counts. Can’t wait to see that upcoming movie where Nicolas Cage plays Nicolas Cage and has to cycle through his entire catalogue of characters for a Mexican drug kingpin. The Castor Troy part should be worth it.

  14. Ah yes, that would be THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF GREAT TALENT in which Cage moves beyond mega acting, into the realm of meta-mega acting. I thank you!

  15. why Ian Holm thinks shoving a magazine down Sigourney’s throat is an effective way to kill her

    Hate to be the “uh, I really think you missed the point” guy, because the movie’s job is to make you get the point. So obviously, the movie failed for you. But, uh, I really think you missed the point. He’s not trying to kill her, per se. He’s trying to rape/humiliate/assert power over her, but being an android he lacks genitalia. So he opts for the best replacement he can find given the circumstances, which is violating her with a porno mag. Of course, you’re unaware he’s an android at the time, so it just comes off as strange, but it’s supposed to occur to you after the fact.

  16. I’m not disputing that the weird magazine move is a rape thing, but why would you assume Ash lacks genitalia? Ash was designed to go pass as human on a ship where everybody spends a lot of time walking around in their underwear. Be pretty stupid to send him out with a Ken doll crotch. I mean, they can replicate wrinkles. A receding hairline. Body hair. British orthodontics. Why would they stop at making him a synthetic whangdoodle?

    Also I think it’s unrealistic to believe that humanity would invent androids and then not immediately employ them for sex work. So I’m gonna have to come down on the side of Ash DEFINITELY having a dick.

  17. Detective John Pig really went through the wringer on this one.

  18. Interesting movie–I enjoyed Cage’s journey as the John Wick of the foodie world–but I suppose I’m still digesting the theme. The movie doesn’t seem to be railing against haute cuisine or classical music, but rather people insincerely parroting and flaunting those things as a pretension. Fine, I dig it. If you like classical music, cool, but don’t act like that makes you better than other people and don’t try to force yourself to like it just because it has a classy reputation.

    In other words, a defense of pulp cinema, so long as it’s sincere. And yet… I’m not sure how this movie would be so different if it were the pretentious, insincere art movie it’s partially critiquing. What’s the Oscar-bait version of Pig? I mean, I’m sure there is one, and I’m not accusing this movie of being insincere or not heartfelt–but it still seems like their argument is very “don’t you hate those phony, artsy-fartsy movies? Well, we’re not phony at all! All this verbiage about creative expression and grief comes from the heart!”

    Which is, y’know, what I’m sure the guys behind GI Joe Origins: Snake Eyes are pushing.

  19. Saw it last night and loved it. Was so grateful to see a movie this quiet and attentive to details in a theater, where I could be fully enveloped in the sound and picture. Cage’s performance here gives us a glimpse into what his Randy the Ram would’ve been like.

  20. I don’t think the message is exactly “don’t you hate those phony, artsy-fartsy movies?” I think it’s more positive and simple: you should do what you love. Period. I don’t think it’s a harangue against haute cuisine or any kind of “fancy” art, or that it would even object to a deconstructed mélange of rustic coastal fare bathed in cedar smoke if that was what the chef was really into, and serving a clientele of true food lovers who got a kick out of that. But that’s not what’s happening with chef Derek — he doesn’t love what he’s doing, he’s just trying to follow what he (correctly) takes to be a lucrative trend, and the people eating the food are no different, they’re just rich chumps who want to seem cool by eating something insanely expensive and elaborate. But neither of them really enjoys it, it’s all just a put-on, a game they’re both playing because no one wants to admit the emperor has no clothes. And Rob doesn’t even object to that, per se — he’s just sorry that poor Derek’s genuine love of cooking has been perverted into this empty, shallow charade, and sorry only because he can see how miserable the guy is trapped in his phony world. It’s not like Rob himself was famous for running a humble burger joint — he’s a fancy high-end chef too. But when the joy went out of it for him –too painful after the death of his wife, who was his partner in art– he walked away, instead of allowing the thing he loved to become a meaningless chore. And he never regretted it, either, because that’s how love is.

    As someone who spent his whole career in and around the food industry, I can say with absolute confidence that this is JOHN WICK for chefs. Every serious career kitchen worker I’ve ever known simply has it in their blood; they consider it their art, and they fiercely defend their insular little subculture. So it makes perfect sense to push their sense of themselves as devoted acolytes of a obscure mystery cult into a full-blown superpower. Rob never hits anyone, but his cooking skills are so powerful that no one can resist him, they can just stand in awe. He is John Wick, this legendary untouchable figure who is rightly treated like a god in his own distinct underworld, and dragged out of retirement against his will just to demonstrate that there’s still no one who can touch him. But being an untouchable god of cooking isn’t a matter of raw power, it’s a matter of awesome sensitivity, of understanding the perfect way to stimulate the senses so as to touch the soul. Art, in other words. But you can’t fake that, and maybe you can’t even learn it — you just have to live it. That’s what the movie is trying to say.

  21. Guys, it’s okay, I’m already never gonna watch the movie. You don’t have to keep convincing me.

  22. Majestyk, sometimes I think you’re the most closed-minded smart person I know. I don’t necessarily think you would like or should watch PIG, but I wouldn’t rule it out like you do. I can’t wrap my head around why you so stubbornly protect yourself from some day spending 92 minutes on something that you don’t think you would like but maybe could surprise you. You’re such a cool, interesting and talented person, but I’m sure you had to evolve and change your mind and try new things to get there, and I don’t see why you’re so convinced that you have to stay at that exact same spot forever.

    Honestly it does kinda bum me out when I’m trying to express my love for a movie and trying to get people to see it and someone announces their firm refusal to do so. But I bring this up not out of some great disappointment or concern that you don’t want to watch PIG, and rather out of friendship and being curious what you have to say about it. Maybe I’m taking your joking/hyperbole too literally though. I know you watch all kinds of horror stuff that you know you might hate.

  23. That last remark was definitely a joke about my own stubbornness. And you’re right, I could maybe stand to not be so set in my ways. And I’d probably give this one a shot someday if it was a slow-burn anti-action non-thriller about literally anything except fancy restaurants. I don’t know how to feel anything except actively antagonistic about that topic. Like if somebody set a movie at a Bob Seger concert, I’m betting you would not be jumping at the chance to explore that mileau. And why should you? You don’t have to see every movie.

    I’d like to say that again for anyone who feel guilty if they’re not interested in the movies everybody else is talking about: YOU DON’T HAVE TO SEE EVERY MOVIE.

    This is supposed to be fun. Watch the ones that seem fun to you. Don’t worry about the rest. They were made for someone else, and that’s great.

    It is not my intention to shit on your enthusiasm, Vern, and I hope it’s clear that I’m the weirdo here, not you. All I can say to defend myself is that, if I’m lucky, I am halfway through with my time here on earth and there are still so many movies I want to watch and even more I want to watch again. It becomes increasingly difficult to justify wasting time on a movie I’m not interested in. At this point, I feel like I know myself and my tastes, and when I take a chance and go against them, I tend to regret it. You don’t suddenly wake up one day after hating broccolli since birth and suddenly discover that you love it.

    As for what my motiviation is in sharing these useless opinions on movies I refuse to see, you got me there. I really don’t know. I hope I’m not just trolling. I think I’m putting these thoughts out there to find out if I’m just crazy or if others feel the same. So many of the popular trends in modern entertainment don’t just leave me cold but seem actively antithetical to what I consider successful storytelling. I often feel like a lone doomsayer warning of an apocalypse that everybody else is perfectly cool with. So I am not trying to argue with anybody or change anybody’s mind with these remarks. I’m just looking for that one person who says “I’m with Majestyk on this one” because that’s when I don’t feel so alone out here.

  24. Oh! Wait! I remember one time recently when I was, well, not wrong, exactly. The movie was exactly how I figured it would be, and I still don’t think that’s a good thing for a movie to be. But I didn’t hate it!

    I am speaking, of course, of THE LIGHTHOUSE, a movie I assumed I would despise to the core of my soul but instead found relatively painless. It was like one of the parody trailers at the beginning of TROPIC THUNDER making fun of pretentious art films. I don’t think I enjoyed it on the level it was intended to be enjoyed on, but the point is, I expected to fucking despise it to the core of my being and instead I even chuckled a few times!

    The EMPTY MAN praise still fucking boggles my mind but I’m willing to give the elevated horror people THE LIGHTHOUSE, one of the better MTV Movie Award skits I’ve ever seen.


    Guys, should I see EMPTY MAN? It seems like something I’d hate.

    Absolutely not. You will hate it.


    Guys I saw EMPTY MAN and I hated it!

    [gesticulates in frustration]

  26. You see? You see what happens when I try to open my mind?

  27. Thanks Majestyk. I understand all that and in retrospect I realize I’m letting myself be triggered because I have always had two main goals in writing about movies: making people look more seriously and respectfully at “lowbrow” stuff like DTV action movies, and making people who ARE into that stuff also be open to trying things that are more weird or arty or considered hoity toity that they didn’t know they could actually get something out of. Society as a whole has moved closer toward the first goal, while I’ve never been very good at the second. But I should’ve remembered that I know where you’re coming from and your broad range of tastes.

  28. It’s cool, man. No worries. And I feel bad for coming in here and raining on your parade. I hope you know that I respect and am entertained by your views on all movies, even (maybe particularly) those I know I’ll never watch. There’s no doubt in my mind that your philosophy toward open-mindedness is the right one.

  29. So I’m probably more than halfway through my life now, and MM reminded me of an epiphany of sorts I had roughly around the time I turned 40.

    I decided that there already wasn’t enough time ahead of me to see everything I wanted to see (and read, etc), and therefore I was going to try to avoid rewatching things I had already watched before.

    I haven’t always held true to that, but I’ve done an okay job of it, and I’ve found it has freed up a lot of extra time to watch new things.

    I know I’m the outlier here, but for anyone else getting older, think about it!

  30. It baffles me that, for all the hatred of A24 slow-mumble-burn-core horror, THE LIGHTHOUSE is the one movie that Majestyk somehow gives a pass. I liked VVITCH, but for the life of me I could not get invested in LIGHTHOUSE, and at times it almost felt like it was made on a dare or as a kind of satire of prestige indie horror. Like, this is an actual slowburn prestige indie horror film that sets out to fulfill all of the worst, least charitable stereotypes and tropes associated with the sub-genre.

  31. I’d be especially curious about what Mr Maj would think of this one since its whole orientation toward restaurants in general and culinary flash and filigree in particular may as well have been cribbed from his initial post above. The end does put in a brief for care and craftsmanship in cooking, but the world it builds overall is one in which that kind of true artisanal effort is doomed to be pimped out to social climbers in conical hats, selling comically elaborate dishes to boug ding dongs. I think this movie anticipated much of his critique!

    I saw Vern’s review go up here a couple days ago, and since I’d had this one on my to-see list, I avoided reading it until now. I’m still letting it seep into my brain so I’m not sure what my broad opinion is yet, but while watching it I did get the sense that it had a surprising amount of vitriol toward Portland – here it comes off as a place whose only economic activity is the cultivation of various ostentatious class signifiers. Vern got to the nub of this with the classical music beginner’s course that Amir was listening to, but I felt that that was an important subtext throughout – one that felt much more fully realized than the “about loss / trauma” stuff that was supposedly the point. Not that I’m asking for another review, but I was curious what Vern thought about this picture of the Pacific northwest, particularly it’s (….I assume?) second city. And what’s the deal with “Fuck Seattle!”? Is there a Hatfield-McCoy rivalry between the two towns?

  32. I can’t believe I forgot to mention the “Fuck Seattle” part. That would’ve got a big laugh if this was a movie that could be attended by more than 5 people. I actually don’t know if there’s anything behind that. I don’t know anyone who has any antipathy toward Portland, and I have a few friends there and haven’t heard anything about it coming back the other way. Maybe there are some Oregonians here who can let us know.

    I haven’t been there that many times but I like it there – it reminds me of Seattle but cleaner, and with way more food trucks and that great, giant book store. I know they have a cool theater that shows 70mm, which we no longer have. I prefer our traditional Top Pot Donuts to their gimmicky Voodoo Donuts with Fruit Loops and crap on them. Their cops seem similar but worse judging by their violence at the ongoing protests.

    I enjoyed seeing the city on film, because it’s novel. I only really recognized the bridge, though.

  33. Dan: That’s the thing: You make a movie critical of a thing I hate, I still have to spend two hours with a thing I hate. Same reason I’ll probably never watch WOLF OF WALL STREET or anything about the fashion industry. There are certain topics that I simply cannot be entertained by.

    Ska I: Yeah, that was THE LIGHTHOUSE’s saving grace. It felt like a bad parody of an A24 movie, which is still more entertaining than an actual A24 movie.

  34. Bahahaha.

  35. As far as Portland vs Seattle beef goes, I have only visited Portland once, and Seattle never (sorry Vern! someday!), so this is pure speculation, but…. out here on the East Coast there’s a kind of push-and-pull between the smaller cities and the big metro areas. A chef who reaches the top of his or her game in Richmond Virginia or Philly may feel pressure to move to the bigger, richer DC or NYC scene to reach the next level of fame and fortune. But with that, there’s a kind of backlash/skepticism about these places, mostly based on doubts about their authenticity or livability for “real” people. Since Seattle is a bigger and richer city than Portland, I assumed that kind of dynamic exists between them, at least in the minds of the people of Portland.* “Moving to Seattle” might sound to our heroes in PIG like selling out to some bogus bourgeoise lifestyle, like the way people used to scoff at the concept of “moving out to the suburbs” when I was younger.

    Just a theory. Anyone in Portland want to chime in?

    * In my experience, people in smaller, scrappier cities tend to think about this rivalry a lot more than the big cities do. Philly has a huge chip on its shoulder about getting compared to New York City; as Mr. M can probably attest, not a single person living in NYC has ever thought even once about Philadelphia.

  36. I was just about to say that about the supposed New York/Boston beef. I grew up in New England, where everybody is either a Red Sox or Yankees fan, so I thought the rivalry went both ways, but then I moved to NY and realized that Boston is just a hater and New York has no idea why he’s so obsessed with him. No New Yorker considers Boston to be anywhere near the same level as New York. It’s like some unemployed actor convincing himself that Brad Pitt is his nemesis.

    And Mr. S is right: Philly is a non-factor to a New Yorker. In my experience, it’s Jersey people who have beef with Philly. That’s more of a fair contest, in my opinion.

  37. I think Chicago also tries to claim some kind of rivalry with New York (which even they know they’ve lost by calling themselves the Second City) but New Yorkers are like “Who?” Really, the only city that New York accepts as an actual rival is Los Angeles, and even then New York so sure it’s winning that it’s more about pity than hatred. Sure, L.A., you can step to the throne if it makes you feel any better about being 47 unrelated suburbs who banded together to pretend to be a city. You’re like two kids stacked on top of each other wearing a trenchcoat to get into an R-rated movie. The effort is adorable but that doesn’t mean we’re gonna treat you like an actual grownup.

    So, yes, New Yorkers ARE smug dicks. Everything you’ve heard is 100% true.

  38. As a former New Yorker and current Chicagoan, I can attest that Chicago is way too far up its own ass to try to claim much of a rivalry with NYC. We’re basically content to sprawl out and enjoy our lot as capital of the midwest, and would really only get worked up about it if the White Sox faced the Yankees in the playoffs or something.

    But the basic dynamic you guys described re the east coast holds for the Great Lakes region as well. As Philadelphia and Boston and I guess probably Baltimore seethe and gripe about NYC (to the haughty indifference of the latter), Detroit and Milwaukee and St Louis and Twin Cities grouse over my adopted home town. If PIG had been set in Indianapolis, there definitely would have been a “fuck Chicago” joke.

  39. Dan: Good to know that being inordinately pleased with yourself for spending way too fucking much on rent is not a specifically East Coast phenomenon.

  40. I watched this movie last weekend. I loved it very much.

    Thanks to everyone for the comments. Esp. Mr. Subtlety for explaining how being an “untouchable god of cooking” is art. It’s not my art, but I’ve witnessed it. It is real.

    Good job, Nic Cage.

  41. This film kinda pulled off the impossible: it created an absolutely absurd universe (there’s a literal, secret underground Fight Club in the basement of an abandoned warehouse exclusively for restaurant employees; famous former chef turned hermit nevertheless has a mausoleum dedicated to his dead wife that’s stocked with a zillion dollar wine collection, etc.) that it took 100% seriously but had zero irony. It was so goddamn refreshing to see something with zero irony.

    The “fuck Seattle” comment made me howl and reminded me of the way basically everyone in Texas thinks about Austin.

  42. Jareth Cutestory

    August 1st, 2021 at 7:45 am

    Majestyk, let me clarify a couple of assumptions you’ve made in your comments:

    PIG isn’t set in the world of restaurants. It isn’t packed with culinary lingo and it doesn’t spend time on their hierarchy of the profession. The restaurant aspect is signified almost in passing, not constructed around the characters. COBRA spends more time examining Stallone’s pizza and scissors culinary technique than PIG spends on food.

    The tone isn’t grim and somber. It’s not like WINTERS BONE or MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE in tone (though the plot is held together in the same casual, naturalistic manner). PIG has a lightness and clarity that is thoughtful and reflective without being a drag.

    Question for you: how do you feel about so many of the movies you watch being set in the world of cops and soldiers? I assume like most of us you have misgivings about the manner in which policework is conducted in this day and age, especially in America. Is it difficult for you to re-watch DIE HARD in the age of Black Lives Matter?

  43. Hey guys! Long time lurker, first time commenter.

    For me, this movie started off really well but dragged a bit until the middle of the second act during the scene where Rob confronts his former employee about abandoning his dreams. IMO that was the best scene in the movie and it all coalesced into a very satisfying and emotional affecting conclusion.

    Regarding whether there’s a rivalry between Portland and Seattle: speaking as someone who’s lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of my life and is located geographically between two cities, I can’t say that I’ve borne much witness to such a thing. I can, however, attest to what Mr. Subtlety said about smaller, scrapper towns taking their rivalries more seriously. My best friend is from Tacoma, and he takes a massive amount of pride in his hometown. One time me, him, and his girlfriend were at a bar and were talking with some other guys, and they had a similar attitude (personally, I really like certain areas of Tacoma, and the fact that my best friend and the woman I’ve been seeing are both from there has meant that I’ve spent a lot of time there, so it’s definitely grown on me over the years).

  44. On Friday I got together with my siblings for the first time since the pandemic. My sister made macaroni from my dad’s recipe, potato salad from my mom’s recipe and what we called “Grandpa’s Beans.” My brother made this very ’70s recipe of carrot salad my dad used to make, and I made my mom’s recipe for “chocolate tea bread.” Best of all my sister made one of Mom’s most legendary desserts, “Pink Cloud,” which is made from angel food cake crumbles, strawberries, strawberry Jello and whipped cream (which I now realize is also a very ’70s recipe). At least one of these foods I didn’t even like that much growing up, but we ate it all and loved it and we talked about our parents and different times when we had had these foods. And I thought about this thread, because like Majestyk I have always been skeptical about foodies and fancy restaurants and all that (as you’ll notice if you read Niketown) but the fact is there’s a sort of magic to food that is conveyed well in this movie. (See also: RATATOUILLE.)

  45. They say that smell brings back memories more than anything else. And I guess that compared with sight and taste nothing beats food as a conversation starter during these kind of get-togethers.

  46. Vern – that sounds like a wonderful (and tasty!) meal. Homemade potato salad pretty much exemplifies the magic of food- everyone’s personal recipe is basically the same as everyone else’s (there’s only like, 5 ingredients you can play around with), but everyone’s tastes different from everyone else’s, and it’s always better homemade than from a store or restaurant. (Which is strangely the opposite of normal salad – which I maintain is always better in a restaurant than when I try to make it at home).

    Re: Pig – I absolutely loved it but the ending scene left me perplexed. Not because I’m confused or don’t understand what happened, but because the whole movie is so deliberately thought out and masterfully well-planned, and the last scene seemed like it was resolving an issue I wasn’t really worried about and stuck out like a sore thumb and left me cold. I literally had to go to one of those “Pig-Ending Explained!” articles that I hate to try to figure out what did it mean?

    And the answer the article gave – that Rob’s love for his titular Pig was basically a coping/defense mechanism for his wife’s death, and now that it was also dead he could finally listen to her tape and get down to the real business of healing from her loss – yeah, it just rubbed me the wrong way. Is that all pets are to the writer (of the article, not the movie?) Just placeholders for love that should really be given to people? Maybe I’m sensitive because we just lost our cat (that my wife had for 20 years) and she was definitely an extraordinary soul, and not just some signifier that we’re misplacing love that we should be giving to a hypothetical child or whatever. No idea if that’s what the filmmakers intended, but the emphasis on that last scene makes me wonder what else they were trying to say.

    I guess it would be like if the ending of John Wick was about him finally being able to watch that video clip of his wife, without any sense of justice done to the bad guys, or without the scene of him rescuing the new dog. It’s just unsatisfying, and not in a good way. Still, it’s an extraordinary film that makes Sarnoski’s next movie an instant must-see, and Cage and Wolff should get Oscar noms if this was a just world.

  47. Forgive me if it’s already been said in this thread, but watch The Truffle Hunters.

  48. “Majestyk would hate this!” was my initial thought at the beginning of this film when I watched it today at my local second-run movie theater. The wide-spaced title font, the clinically framed digital cinematography, the slow camera work, the inevitable drone shot of a forest – all present and correct.

    But then the movie got going and it’s actually really funny. I don’t know whether it was meant to be, or if it’s a ROAD HOUSE / MIAMI CONNECTION type deal where a genre is so absurdly exaggerated without self-awareness that it becomes entertaining in spite of itself, but I had a blast.

    It might take a certain degree of irony to enjoy the movie the way I did. But the way that the world of haute cuisine was a sugar-coated topping for this bizarre kumite criminal underworld was hysterical to me. It goes without saying that Cage is entertaining, but the eccentric way that the other foodie characters respond to him, and treat this bedraggled refugee with such reverence like he was King Richard returning from the Crusades, is comedy gold.

    And in addition to all that it actually was a bit poignant as well.

    So Majestyk, if you’re reading this, I think you would enjoy this at least as much as THE LIGHTHOUSE, possibly much more.

  49. Curt, I am both honored and ashamed that my weaponized hatred of turgid self-importance has pierced the veil of the internet and emerged into the real world. I’d prefer it be my Universal Burt Reynolds Mustache Theory or even my continued exploration of Infant Torretto Variable Aging Syndrome but I suppose we don’t get to choose which of our accomplishments carve a notch on the headboard of history and which don’t.

    No promises, but your assessment of this film as an accidental parody of the current movement of somnambulant non-cinema is the closest anyone has come to convincing me to see it. It’s shorter than THE LIGHTHOUSE so it’s already got that going for it.

  50. Guys, I deeply apologize for this, but now that Curt has called me out and put this movie back on my mind, I can’t help but picture it as one of those Will Farrell movies where he plays a self-important blowhard man-child in an unlikely profession with all kinds of deliberately absurd and incongruent world-building. TRUFFLE HUNTER: THE SECRET RECIPE OF GUSTAV VON VALENTINE is the story of a former world class chef who retired after a mysterious tragedy (we find out in a late-second-act flashback that he lost his favorite soup ladle) who lives a RAMBO III type monastic mountain man existence until his beloved pig (John C. Reilly, ABOVE THE LAW [uncredited]) is kidnapped by gangster chefs from the shady Portland restaurant scene, which he must infiltrate as a legendary badass chef whose rumored proficiency with a whisk causes fear and panic wherever he goes, even an underground fighting tournament that is perhaps overly derivative of the similar newscaster gang brawl sequence in ANCHORMAN. The film climaxes when Von Valentine cooks a meal so amazing that the bad guy (Danny McBride) has a flashback montage set to the tune of “The Time of Our Lives” from DIRTY DANCING (sung by John C. Reilly in pig costume). The end credits run under a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Piggy” sung by Maya Rudolph in full diva mode. GUSTAV VON VALENTINE WILL RETURN IN TRUFFLE HUNTER CHAPTER TWO: REHEATED.

    Shit. I really might have to watch this thing now.

  51. Majestyk, to be clear, I genuinely loved the movie. I’m not making fun of it. I like to think it was an absolutely bone-dry comedy (though I was the only person in the theater laughing).

    I think maybe the movie it reminded me of most was the Henry Rollins movie HE NEVER DIED, in its central character’s absolute commitment to deadpan stubbornness.

    My favorite scene takes place in a fancy restaurant. I will spoil nothing about it, except for the laugh-out-loud gag where an old acquaintance of Cage cheerfully asks him “How are you?!” in total disregard of the visual evidence.

  52. Dammit, Curt, you silver-tongued devil. I was all set to never, ever, ever watch this movie for as long as I live and then you gotta go and compare it to one of my favorite movies of this century. I gotta say, though, I’m probably gonna prefer the version of the story where the deadpan sadsack makes a meal OF his enemy, not a meal FOR him.

  53. So PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND put me in a Cage kinda mood, and since PIG was selling at the Redbox for pennies, I figured I’d pull a Majestyk and renounce every single one of my previous pronouncements and watch it. And it’s…not bad, I guess? Pretty good even? I have zero idea what everybody else thinks is so great about it, but, thanks to the much-appreciated 90-minute running time, it held my interest most of the way (I’ll admit I walked off and did something else during the cooking scenes) and it occasionally even deigned to engage with that old-fashioned notion of “being entertaining.” My favorite part is where they’re at the farmer’s market or whatever and the old lady is just being polite but then they mention that the pig was stolen and she’s like “Motherfucker!” The movie came alive in a way I was not expecting. It even had a score in some parts! With, like, instruments and rhythm and melody that was designed to get you excited! Like a movie!

    I certainly didn’t buy everything the movie was selling. I do not believe that Rob remembers every meal he ever served. That is definitely some shit that would be in the Wil Farrell comedy version I speculated about upthread. I was not particularly convinced by any of Rob’s magic food powers, to be honest. I actually thought Rob was just being an asshole in that restaurant scene that everybody loves. So the chef found that dreams don’t pay the rent and so he has to shuck-and-jive to make that dollar. Join the fuckin’ club, man. Maybe he tried to open that pub and couldn’t get investors. Maybe he’s got six kids and they like the school system so he’s stuck trying to make ends meet in an expensive market like Portland instead of a smaller city where a pub might do well. The point is, just because you remember that this guy burned the pasta 20 years ago doesn’t mean you have any insight into his life or the choices he’s made. You do not have the right to shame this poor bastard because you don’t feel he has made sufficient headway in realizing a daydream he shared with you 20 years ago. The moral high horse the movie tries to put Rob on in this scene is distasteful to me. Like Whathisdick from HEREDITARY said (not annoying here for once!), not everyone can live in the woods. It’s easy to be a monk on the mountaintop. You can really feel the smugness of youth coming through in the screenplay. It’s real easy to scold sellouts when life hasn’t forced you to make any hard choices yet.

    Also, sorry, but that fight club was just stupid. It didn’t work for me on any level. If it’s supposed to be a metaphor for something, it went right over my head, but that doesn’t matter, because from a logistical standpoint, I don’t see how it functions. Apparently only restaurant workers with “a name” get to compete, but why would anybody successful submit to taking a brutal beating for $500? And then you’re telling me the staff of every high-end restaurant in town, a scene we’ve been assured over and over again is all about appearances, all go back to work with their faces all fucked up on a regular basis? Nah. That’s not a thing, movie. That doesn’t happen. Nice try, though. It’s never a bad idea to try and wedge an underground fighting tournament into a movie, even if it amounts to nothing.

    And that’s kinda what’s holding the movie back for me. Remember that poor chef bastard giving his spiel about the theory behind his stupid smoke dumplings or whatever? Take foraged ingredients and deconstruct them to turn something familiar into something foreign? How is that not this movie? It takes ingredients from whatever is lying around at the time (John Wick, old man action, miserablist dramas about grief, the Nic Cage meme machine) and serves them up in a way that feels deliberately designed not to nourish. This movie keeps offering up ingredients that have been known to satiate in the past (hand-to-hand combat, a mystery investigation, revenge schemes, stoic badasses with arcane skills, arrogant rich fucks in need of comeuppance) and turns them into a plate of smoke. You appreciate the ideas behind the dish, but it does not fill your stomach the way a hearty, honest, less up-in-its-own ass meal would. This movie is 100% locally foraged huckleberry foam.

    Of course, many found this pretentious meal incredibly satisfying, much like I’m sure many of the restaurant patrons that Asshole Rob the Judgmental Prick shat on without a hint of empathy enjoyed the pinecone oysters or whatever. I never got within spitting distance of having an emotional response to any of this but apparently many found it moving. In particular, I’d imagine Cage’s right-down-the-middle performance would be much more a revelation to anyone who hasn’t bothered watching any of his movies in 20 years. Personally, I don’t think the quiet reserve on display here is anything special compared to his similarly quiet role in VENGEANCE, a movie I’m sure most of PIG’s fans would dismiss sight unseen. Personally, I thought PIG was too wishy-washy where it counted, too afraid to dig in and get dirty, and the ending too rife with cliches to hold much weight. But I guess presentation matters, and many responded to the whole package in a way I did not. As someone above said, this movie more or less works despite nothing about it being particularly exceptional and containing many elements, that, on their face, are actively risible. I liked it a lot better than I thought I would, even if it didn’t particularly speak to me.

    Really, the real winner here is the 90-minute running time. If this bitch came in at two hours and 15, we would be having a much different conversation right now.

  54. The DVD comes with about 40 minutes of Nic Cage learning how to cook, though, so it was a solid purchase. $3.99 well spent in my opinion.

  55. I just figured out what I found so false about the movie’s confrontation scenes. In each, Rob, a symbol of objective truth, confronts a hostile character who is clinging to an untruth. Rob’s earthy integrity and tell-it-like-it-is demeanor force them to drop the facade and not only face but accept the truth. As the past two years have shown us, this is utter horseshit. Being confronted with an uncomfortable truth will only make people dig even deeper into the falsehoods that sustain them, especially when accepting the truth will damage their livelihood and/or conception of themselves. Facing inconvenient facts is more likely to encourage them to make up even more elaborate justifications for their behavior. Rob’s monologue would have bounced right off that chef, and even if it haunted him in the night, it would not convince him to give up the food supplier that sustains his business. Rob’s magical dinner might briefly put Adam Arkin in touch with his grief, but it wouldn’t make him take the next step in seeing Rob’s grief as valid as his own. If anything, it would make him hate Rob even more for making him feel
    like this. What feels false about this film is that it postulates that the truth brings us together, when the story of humanity shows the exact opposite. The truth tears us apart.

  56. neal2zod: I also see that last scene as Robin dealing with his wife’s death, but I didn’t get the feeling that the pig was just a placeholder for her. I think that accepting his grief for the pig— knowing there was nothing he could have done, and that there’s no way to make it better—allows him to also accept his grief for Lori. But what I appreciate about the movie is that it leaves a lot of room for people to interpret it. I think one theme that runs though the movie is the temporary nature of happiness, pleasure, and life. Robin left Portland, freezing it in his memory. Coming back to the city brings the weight of time back onto him, but he also sees that things can move on, if that makes sense.

  57. Finally caught up to this and thought it was great. Everyone keeps comparing it to JOHN WICK, but the DNA it shares with Wick 1 is that it doesn’t explain its world. So there’s an underground restaurant fight club. They’re not going to tell us why or how it all works. We’re just going to go there and experience it. Like how the first John Wick takes us to the hitman hotel and shows us the weird coins and doesn’t bother to provide exposition for it. This is why I prefer the first Wick to the sequels– the more you explain, the less I am interested.

    I’m also obviously not the first person to notice this, but I think the key to this movie is that the restaurant they go to where Rob dresses the chef down is called Eurydice. Rob is Orpheus, journeying into the underworld to rescue his lost love (the pig). He impresses the devil himself but it’s not enough. I like that Rob recreates the magical meal for Darius. It could be seen as a kindness, or a cruelty– making him remember those last cherished moments he had with his wife.

    Rob wishes his pig could be in a Schrodinger state and says that uncertainty is better than the alternative. Arkin’s character is doing something similar– keeping his wife trapped between life and death. Kind of like Hades’ captive wife, Persephone. However, their son knows better. He think it’s better to know– to accept that the pig (and his mom, and Rob’s wife) is gone. And Rob agrees with him in the end. So I feel that– along with that last scene with the tape– the movie is telling us the myths were wrong, and you have to look back. You have to face what you lost. Rob is cursed with perfect recall and is trying to hide from his memories and former life. But in the end he has to accept the loss. Or something.

    Sarnofski’s next movie is apparently going to be a QUIET PLACE spinoff/prequel of some sort. I’m cautiously optimistic.

    After Pig I tried to keep the Cage train rolling with WILLY’S WONDERLAND, and I hated that so much I was angry at myself for watching it.

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