The Man in the Arena: PIG
PIG is like a weird, quiet, simply profound piece of art. It calls attention to loss and grief, treading in a puddle of existential deconstruction with comedic overtones, also Nicholas Cage needs a bath like very badly. Set in an isolating green forest of Oregon juxtaposed to the vibrantly booming metropolis of Portland, PIG keeps its balance in the fortitude of love, the only thing that seemingly matters to one's existence. Nicholas Cage's character, Robin is a recluse living in a shack of a camp ground with his truffle pig. Whatever has happened to Robin's life has clearly led him to stay away from society to live a somewhat peaceful life in his fortress of solitude where he spends days cooking up various findings, alongside his beloved pig, who forages for truffles, which apparently is a booming industry. I had no idea. We learn he's a vendor for a supplier named Amir played by Alex Wolff who makes a profitable business selling ingredients to high end restaurants. Then one day all hell breaks loose, when Robin is ambushed, attacked and his pig is kidnapped. This sets off a chain of events and becomes a journey between Amir and Robin figuring out who and why would someone take his pig and it's an interesting partnership, given that one is business hungry and the other a recluse. They compliment each other, sort of. If anything, something about this film feels like a parable and it's advertised like a bloody revenge thriller because nearly every single scene shows a bloodied up Robin which is actually kind of brilliant. A bloodied up protagonist with only one goal in mind and it will tug at your heart strings until the very end. And can we talk about that crazy underground fight club scene with rowdy restaurant workers? Loved it. Alas makes sense that would be the place to go to obtain further information among a closed knit group of probably stressed-induced chefs in a foodie town.
On the surface this story is rough around the edges, but beneath it, it is layered with grief, loss, existential hardship but also reveals a gratifyingly written monologue illustrating a sharp commentary on the restaurant industry. But ultimately the journey allows the viewer to experience loss and from Robin's perspective it's also about letting go. He obviously is already wrestling with something on top of losing his pig. We learn of a cassette tape with his name on it, that he hesitates playing yet we briefly hear a woman's voice who's full of love about to surprise him, but then he hits stop and ejects the tape. His internal struggle, which is never really blatantly addressed but it's clear he loved his wife and misses her dearly.
The dialogue as sparse as it is, is written well and delivered almost in a deadpan tone. It's sharp and poignant like a butcher's knife, and the restaurant industry is cut throat just like any workforce under the infrastructure of capitalism. It inspires this assertive attitude to conquer those who threaten the success and power of established entities which is a cycle that similarly seems to mirror this sense of running away from loss. It's almost like Robin is doing everything in his power to not let the loss of a loved one effect him and yet it has. Everyone fears loss. It's inevitable, life wouldn't be life without loss. It will always shape us and reveal who we are when it hits hard. So this parallel idea of figuring out what matters to one's life and spending endless time working either for yourself or someone else's success is fleeting like that of a serving of your most favorite dish. Think about how timely this feels to why so many restaurant workers refuse to return to work; they're beginning to understand their value and worth. Life is short. Who wants to be underpaid or be treated like anything less than human for serving another. It be a waste of precious life and time. So, another element that makes PIG special is how food is utilized. For instance, Amir's mother and father had a memorable meal that heightened their happiness so much it made an impression on Amir, a moment he holds so close and dear, it's a fleeting moment and I feel like that's something everyone in their life at one point or another try so hard to clasp onto. And that's the beauty in PIG. PIG represents a fleeting moment of joy. The joy we as humans feels so extensively end up writing poems, songs, and novels about it. We harvest and rehash those moments in hopes of igniting another cherished experience and often times we do get that and it melts your heart.
In one of the most funniest moments in the film when Rob and Amir visit a chef who was a former employee of Robin back in the day, who at this point we learn was a renowned chef with a degree of prestige and talent. If anything his reputation proceeds him. But when the one thing he cares about was stolen from him he shares his "everything is meaningless" dialogue specifically aimed precisely for the deposit of information. Something that will propel him closer to his pig. I mean how great is this monologue? He knocks Chef Derek down peg by deeply excavating his vulnerability when he expresses, "The critics aren't real, the customers aren't real, because this isn't real. You aren't real. Why do you care about these people? .... They don't even know you, because you haven't shown them. Everyday you wake up and there'll be less of you." And as Robin expresses this chef Derek giggles uncomfortably, biting the soul crushing sting of humiliation because the world he inhabits feels absolutely meaningless. It's so painful to watch but necessary in understanding when one needs to change directions in their life. It's like he sniffing out the phoniness, which I mean when you're foraging for truffles aren't pigs sniffing for specific aromas. So contrast this with how Robin is emasculating the humanity of those who think their living with authentic joy. It's a compelling image and symbolic on so many levels it nearly gives me goosebumps.
The thing I really vibe with in Robin's character aside from the obvious pain of grief he's going through is his tenacity, vigor, wholehearted ability to fight for the thing that brings him joy which happens to be a truffle pig. The imagery is humorous but effective and this is woven throughout the narrative. The humor that is. The other imagery that resonates is Rob's face, smeared of swollen flesh, blood, and bruises. The world is beating him down and his stained expression of battling ambivalence demonstrates firm defiance outside the realm of mediocrity. It makes me think about "The Man in the Arena" speech by Theodore Roosevelt. And for your benefit here's pretty much all of that speech:
" It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles; or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
It's an incredible and uplifting speech because almost everyone on the planet can relate to it, unless you're psychopath with dark eyes and no soul. It really heightens the notion that everyone has their arena moment. We fight hard for something we're so fiercely believe in that we abandon ourselves to go after it and whatever happens, happens. There are zero guarantees. And again PIG represents kind of that fundamental mentality. Robin goes in fighting daring greatly despite what other repercussions may follow, or bits of his past he'd have to face. But then reality sets in and instead of using a defense mechanism to avoid the void of grief, he's at a crossroad in either accepting what has happened or finding another approach to not accepting reality. It's quite beautiful, because what he expresses in the final chapter is a testament to the human spirit.
To love a living being as much as Robin's character does of his beloved truffle pig, is endearing, irrevocably pure so much it changes a person to rediscover the simplicity in experiencing joy even if it seems too distract from a prior loss. Grief takes all of these characters on a journey in rebuilding themselves essentially in times where they can’t control the rampage of emotions that engulf them. Robin's quiet, reserved, determined demeanor is so hypnotic it nearly translates to a tranquil forest; a forest beneath the surface that suffers loss and wreaks havoc in pursuing justice over a personal loss. It's a harrowing feat that comes full circle in the end which elicits a flood of peace that washes over you and makes you feel alive.