You expect Pig to have a vengeful pulse. After all, it’s about a mountain man looking for his kidnapped pig. Yet there is no such pulse to be found, for Pig is not about revenge but existentialism – priorities, appearances, meaning. For Rob (Nicolas Cage), life’s priorities do not extend beyond the Oregonian forest he lives in with his beloved pig. Together, they scour the forest floor in search of truffles, which he sells to Amir (Alex Wolff), a flash and inexperienced young businessman. Rob and Amir could not be more different, but when Rob is ambushed and his pig is stolen, he reaches out to Amir for help, beginning a journey into the city and each other’s psyches.
Nicolas Cage has taken many forms in his long and busy career – vampire, alcoholic, John Travolta – but his eccentric energy is quite different as Rob, who lives under a mop of dirty grey hair, a heavy waxed jacket and, for the majority of the movie, a set of bloody face injuries. He doesn’t need to speak to express his casual disdain for appearances and social mores, but when he does, it is quite brilliant. Pig’s best scene occurs when Rob and Amir visit an upscale restaurant run by Chef Finway, a former student of Rob’s, whose full name is Robin Feld – a big name in the Portland culinary scene before he retreated into the woods.
Finway is a successful restaurateur yet he is crippled by the expectations of others, attending to his customers with a maniacal friendliness. Rob sees through this facade and asks what happened to his dream of running an English-style pub. Finway, unable to turn off his electric smile, barely contains his existential anxiety as he listens to Rob, who begins a calm and measured monologue about how Portland’s fault lines will destroy the city and everything in it, urging Finway to pursue his real ambitions while he can. With the atmosphere decidedly thick, Rob concludes the moment by pointing out, “You can use stale bread for French toast.”
This is the dry comic sensibility of Pig. Its brooding existentialism could have been trite and earnest, yet it manages to be funny and uplifting. Rob’s severe worldview is actually quite inspiring. Material posturing does not impress him; he sees life as a game full of vanity and petty competition. He simply does not care, and there’s a lot of relief in that worldview. Amir certainly benefits from it, having been raised by a wealthy father who treats him with total contempt and shame. Slowly, Rob becomes a low-key father figure to the image-conscious boy. This sounds like a hackneyed character arc, but in Pig, nothing is banal.