In Pig, the feature debut of writer-director Michael Samoski, he subsumes himself, hunched and bearded, in the role of Rob, a reclusive truffle hunter who lives alone in the mossy forests of Oregon.
Alone that is apart from his pig, a gingery, Schnauzer-looking creature (name and breed unknown), who helps him with his trade.
These early scenes are simple, unsentimental, and effective in establishing Rob’s quiet life and affection for his porcine companion. With Patrick Scola’s rich cinematography2 accentuating the earth tones and a delicate, quivering string score, by Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein, I would have been happy enough to spend 90 minutes watching Rob make meals, like the rustic mushroom tart for which the film’s first chapter is named; the pig shaking off the dusting of flour that floats down to the floor.
Instead, their cabin is raided in the night, Rob knocked unconscious, and the pig taken. With the help of Amir (Alex Wolff), to whom he supplies truffles, and Rob’s only contact with the world, he goes looking for his pig.
Rather than segue into vengeance thriller territory, Samoski never lets go of his restraint. Like John Wick, to which Pig has been inevitably, tediously compared, you get the impression of a wider society at work – be it the old lady who, initially standoffish, immediately leads the way as soon as she hears about the pig, or, on a more macro scale, the underground chef’s fight club secretly taking place beneath the streets of Portland.
Rob, bloodied and unkempt, is uncommunicative, introspective; contrasting with the flashy, insecure Amir, with his yellow sports car and love of classical music. When Rob does speak, though, he does so with such simple, striking insight that everyone listens – like the celebrity chef Rob once knew who gave up on his dream of running a pub in favour of a hip, soulless, deconstruct-everything restaurant.
Pig’s key theme is that of loss, of being true to yourself in the understanding of what little, little time, little opportunity, is available to you. It’s a film about profound empathy, about the power of shared experience to bring us back to ourselves, anchored by a lived-in performance from Cage and the nervous energy and vulnerability of Wolff.
“We don’t get a lot of thing to really care about”, Rob states matter-of-factly. If you like your cinema simple and flavourful, then Pig could be one of them.