She May be a Pig, But I Love Her

Still from “Pig.”

How come Jesus gets Industrial Disease?

– Dire Straits, “Industrial Disease,” Telegraph Road (1980)

Pig is a film about post-sumptuality and pretension, loves’ labors lost and briefly found, and the last burning coals of humanity before its just dark and cold and empty.

Pig had me thinking about the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, his special thing with math, the elegance that oohed him, professor at Berkeley, top of the herd, who has a vision unsplendid regarding the industrialization of mankind, resulting in ‘a break with reality,’ as RD Laing would say, and a withdrawal from the world into the deeps of Montana to live a simpler life. Sounds idyllic, but then he felt the need to be all gangbusters Gabriel and warned his fellow Man (and women,too) that the second Industrial Age, beginning with fossil fuel extraction and dependency, had put us in line for self-extinction. Ted just felt he needed to get the message through with bombs, because, let’s face it, nobody’s listening.

In a concession to humanity, the New York Times acceded to the Unabomber’s demands and printed his 35,000 word manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future [available here], in their pages.  Ted was no Galahad:

My motive for doing what I am going to do is simply personal revenge. I do not expect to accomplish anything by it. Of course, if my crime (and my reasons for committing it) gets any public attention, it may help to stimulate public interest in the technology question and thereby improve the chances of stopping technology [before] it is too late; but on the other hand most people will probably be repelled by my crime, and the opponents of freedom may use it as a weapon to support their arguments for control over human behavior.

His defeatist attitude aside, his pointing to the spectre of technology is eerily relevant, as is his reference to mind control.

We’re told at some point along the continuum of his mad descent into Hell that he was deeply affected  by Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society, with its mysterious French phenomenological references to “technological desire.”  I’m affected by this revelation. I studied Ellul as a philosophy of technology grad student at RPI. Deep shit, that Ellul. Check out this whopper from The Technological Society (1954):

Things in history, like human lives themselves, come to ends. The question is not the reform of technological society; it is the question whether human meaning is possible in its world… The technological society reduces the human spirit to desire, just as an individual life can be reduced to one of its dimensions.

Fuck me, if I haven’t been saying such suchness for years. As for mind control, even Ted’s ‘motivation’ has to be taken with a grain of salt, as he was a mind control guinea pig at Harvard, some mad CIA-connected scientist/professor fucking with his self-esteem in experiments that make me so fuckin angry, and maybe as part of that mofo MKULTRA programme that they purged the records of. Add in Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shifts in  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and you got yourself a troubled mind.

On the surface, Pig has nothing to do with the Unabomber, Ellul or Kuhn. It is a seemingly straightforward tale of Rob (played by Nicholas Cage), a prominent Portland chef who, after Lori (Cassandra Violet), his loving wife dies, loses the fire in his heart and removes himself from the city and goes into seclusion into the woods, living with his “truffle-foraging” pig in a cabin, with a view of Mt. Hood, really, wanting nothing more to do with society and its obnoxious trappings.  He gets by, financially, through his digs that yield exquisite product for the truffle-making restaurateurs back in the city.  The delivery of the truffles is accomplished by Amir (Alex Wollf), the son-of-a-gun, Darius (Adam Arkin), a quasi-underworld figure he once knew.

Each of us is a unique firmament constellated with emotions and thoughts educated by experience and learning over time, and there’s something about Pig that exceeds the sum of all its surfaces. Cage’s understated performance is a throwback to some of his finest earlier work, including Birdy and Leaving Las Vegas. Serious trauma informs the narratives of each film.  In Birdy, two Vietnam conscripts return home deeply wounded, Al (Cage) has received horrific facial wounds, and his friend Birdy (Mathew Modine) comes back so mentally damaged that he thinks he’s a bird who can’t be reached. Handsome Al, lucky with the ladies, before the war, finds in himself the strength to take care of his good buddy, Birdy, who has no physical injuries. It’s a tale about human love.

Likewise, Leaving Las Vegas features a down-and-outing character who leaves it all behind to drink himself to death in Sin City.  He’s past the point of No Return and can’t be reached by love.  Cage seems to have these kinds of characters nailed.  Pig has similar ambitions to each of those films. Cage has lost his love and he’s no longer really reachable. At one point, seemingly frustrated by Rob’s insistence on getting the pig back instead of proffered compensation, Amir asks why he cares so much about replaceable pig. Rob reveals that he doesn’t need the pig for truffles, because “the trees tell you where to look,” but he wants the pig back because he loves it; the pig’s his companion in the woods.Although, in Pig, he reaches out to some of the humans of his past, during his search for the pig that has been stolen from him during a robbery of his cabin, and shakes their realities.

In the one case, he dines at a trendy restaurant, called Eurydice, and, after being unimpressed by the food, asks to see the “chef” who turns out to be his old pasta cook, Derrick (David Knell); Rob reminds him that he was fired because he “always overcooked the pasta.” Rob gestures around and quietly tells Derrick that his patrons don’t love or care about him, and he wants to know why Derrick gave up on following his bliss — opening an unpretentious pub. Derrick begins to crack at the seemliness of his ambitions. Rob’s not being mean, so much as curious about why Derrick would turn his back on love.

The second instance, and the movie’s deepest sequence, is when Rob confronts Darius about the pig, his investigation into the whereabouts of leading him to suspect the upper middle class hood of having a hand in the disappearance. Darius reminds Rob that his days in Portland are over and that nobody cares about him; there’s nothing there for him anymore. Rob’s look suggests that it’s a reciprocated feeling. Darius tries to pay him off, but Rob wants the pig. Shortly after, Rob and Amir sneak into Darius’s home and re-create the meal (with wine) that Darius and his wife (now in a coma) were served by Rob years earlier. It’s deeply affecting, and brings Darius to tears. He remembers his love. He now understands Rob’s loss — and humanity.

The Portland portrayed in Pig is pre-antifa, pre-George Floyd, pre-mass protest, pre-Covid-19. It’s not exactly a quiet place — whatever that might mean in America these days — but settled, cinematically, at least. Still, there’s trouble. Rob has been beaten in a remote locale, his pig stolen.  In his search for the pig, Rob meets up with downtrodden folks, desperadoes, druggies, including the actual thieves, a young skanky couple, who say they sold the pig to a cityslicker they can’t describe. In Portland, Rob infiltrates an underground fight club that helps him further.

The outcasts are contrasted to the phoniness and pretension of people who frequent establishments like Derrick’s Eurydice (with a name like that, presumably, he serves up low salt fare), who care for little other than being pampered and  presented with haughty cuisine — petit bourgeois twats of the sort that sprouted nationally like fleur de mal out of the loamy loam of Reaganomics. Even Darius is presumptuous in the power he holds, and the sense of growing entitlement he possesses over time. All over Portland, Rob feels an emptiness, as if the human project had lost its desire.  Even Amir, Darius’s son, as feckless and inoffensive as he is, irritates Rob with his expensive sports car radio listening to a nose-up audiobook about the great, time-withstanding works of classical music — Rob keeps shutting it down as low-twattage intellectualism.  Rob goes easy on the kid: He knows Amir’s mother is in a coma, that his Dad is an asshole, and that Amor has no real friends.

Pig is subtle in its epistemology. And it may be reading too much into Cage’s projected melancholy to blight and the end of civilization, as the director pans across empty landscapes that seem to mirror the emptiness of people’s inner lives.  It might be a bit much to see paradigm shifts, although you could argue loss of a great love can leave one grieving and speechless for a long time. But in the end when Rob hits play on his tape player and hears his dead wife’s voice, followed by her favorite song, Springstein’s “I’m On Fire,” you can hear the dirgeful Ellululation that cries out for the lost dimensions of human meaning. Nothing really means much in this film. and that numbness is strangely moving.

The film also has a fine atmospheric soundtrack, spare and ethereal.  I recommend a viewing of the film.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.