Michael Sarnoski’s Pig

Nicolas Cage just wants his beloved pet Pig back in a film that’s a lot more subdued, moody, rainy and melancholic than you might think, a Pacific Northwest tone poem about loss, grief, commerce, loneliness and truffles. It’s a strange brew of genre and tonal elements, but director Michael Sarnoski (in his feature debut, no less) spins them all together like the best chefs for a sensory experience and cinematic recipe that is something masterful, weird, eerily lingering and so deeply, deeply sad I had to watch some South Park afterwards before bed just so the heartbreaking, soul shaking beats of this narrative wouldn’t follow me into my dreams. Cage’s former legendary chef lives a hushed, reverent existence, haunting a stretch of rugged Oregon mountain country and dwelling in a simple shack with his pig, foraging and selling truffles to a cocky industry upstart (Alex Wolff, brilliant) from the city for a meagre living. When his pig is snatched in the night by poachers, he journeys back to Portland to a life and a restaurant scene he thought he left behind to find her, and along with her the last remaining ray of dim hope left in his broken, weary soul. This isn’t just about losing a pig, or finding a pig once again you see, it’s about loss overall, that of Cage’s character and that of the other two principal characters in the story, Wolff’s wayward young “entrepreneur” who has lost the favour of his restaurant mafia kingpin father (Adam Arkin, never scarier nor more bitterly pitiful) who has lost something so deep that he can’t even articulate it in words, and it takes involuntary sense memory to even get him to acknowledge it to *himself*. Sarnoski presents the Portland food scene as a frightening, clandestine mob underworld, a choice that could have easily come across as parody or tongue in cheek but the solemn atmosphere and deadly serious writing make it freakishly believable, I’ve spent time with people who work in that industry and it’s really not a far cry or embellishment from how it actually is. Cage’s performance is one of staggering vulnerability and shaggy, end-of-the-road resolve, a once worshipped god of cuisine reduced to a shambling ghost of greatness, made so by a tragedy he never speaks about and the film only carefully hints at. The poor lost Pig is indeed really his pet, whom he loves dearly, but she serves to represent that which we have all lost at onetime or another, that hidden thing that’s hard to talk about and sometimes makes us want to disappear into the woods of the northwest, live in a cabin and never see another human face again. This is a courageous film for allowing an actor like Cage to explore these painful, challenging themes against a backdrop of food, rain, trees and austere hierarchical czars and barons of fine cookery, a realm that is as fascinating as it is unsettling. Just be careful though man, because to be perfectly candid this film is sad as fuck, like maybe the most thoroughly spirit-dampening experience I’ve had in cinema for awhile, it took me a good hour to shake off the hopeless feeling it leaves you with, such is it’s power. It’s essential viewing for many many reasons, more than I’ve touched on here, but it should be wielded carefully, especially if you have issues with depression or immediate grief. I look forward to whatever comes next from Sarnoski, who has quietly ushered himself onto the scene with a stunningly powerful first feature, and provided Cage with what might be the role of his career so far. An absolute showstopper of a film.

-Nate Hill


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