Director: Michael Sarnoski
Writers: Vanessa Block (story by), Michael Sarnoski (story by)
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
If performance is the metric by which you select your favourite films of the year, Pig is likely to be the very top of your list. Nicolas Cage has had a rather eccentric career. As a long-time fan, I’ve found myself gushing at many of his committed, and heartfelt performances in Leaving Las Vegas, Joe, and Raising Arizona. I’ve cringed at the dramatic highs of films like Deadfall and Vampire’s Kiss.
I’ve chuckled at the mystifying Face-off. And I’ve yearned for more in films like Knowing and National Treasure where he has been no doubt charismatic, but clearly restrained. It wasn’t until I saw Mandy that I began to consider Nicolas Cage as one of my all-time favourite actors, and even then, the enjoyment in that film is likely hidden for most mainstream viewers under a cacophony of ambitious, bold, and bizarre imagery. Pig is the first Cage performance in a post Mandy world where I feel he has finally shown what longtime fans knew had been there all along. A twisted undercurrent to his stalking persona, in Pig we see a man carved and laid bare, a vulnerable splaying of trauma and a fight for the survival of his own cognitive wellbeing. It’s a subdued performance.
For many who are unfamiliar with his breadth of work, it may even seem an anomaly. But Cage’s performance as Rob is no doubt a triumph, one of the finest of the year, one of the finest of an illustrious career, and surely to be one of the finest of this new decade. But a stellar central performance can only carry a film so far. Pig succeeds with so much more. Whether it be the emotional powerhouse script from debut feature writer/director, Michael Sarnoski, with the three act structure clearly delineated and brilliantly reflecting the central character as well as a core thematic motif, or the stellar unraveling of grief, the film taking its depiction of tragedy to such a depth so as to come to new conclusions about what it means to lose someone. Pig is not merely about grief, but it is about the trauma of grief, the way it can play to our psychological detriment, and how acceptance is no doubt the hardest part of the journey—a sentiment Indiewire.com astutely covered this year.
It’s no secret how Pig uses Rob as a means to talk about the dissociative undercurrent of grief, the way we as people can detach from our reality, both literally and figuratively, as a means for coping. Rob alludes to how he sees the world, a simulated environment destined for predictive failure in our effort to appease the ones around us, and it is in this world that Rob shows his true strength. Rob is a giant to the people around him, yet in his mind he remains anonymous, a searcher in the wind desperate for a lifeline to the few things in life he is emotionally capacity to care about.
The first act is a stack of cards, and it is here that we introduce the film’s core downfall which is its ambitious world building that occasionally stretches beyond our ability to grasp the breadth of its implications. But at the end of the day, when all is left but a lonely man and his pig, it grows hard to care about such trivialities as a ‘best films of the year’ list. Unless, of course, you do it for you. And you do it for the people who may smile and remember that one meal or nugget of wisdom that they hold with them today to lift them out of the mud. 9.5/10