There’s really nothing here for most of us: Pig (2021)

A thriller drama directed and written by Michael Sarnoski in his directorial debut follows a chef turned truffle forager, whose pig goes missing. Honestly, I was in because I’ve expected Nicolas Cage to follow the path of a vengeance-driven John Wick, but with a pig. Maybe some truffle pasta. However, it’s a poetic and pensive heroic story.

Sarnoski often uses windows and doors as a way of framing the scene, but also pinpointing different hero’s decisions, either to stick to society or run away from it.

In 1928, Vladimir Propp, a Russian literary scholar and folklorist, analyzed hundreds of fairy tales and identified common themes. It turns out that not only one can find common structural elements, but there is a predefined order in which they occur. All of such functions do not need to be present in the tale, but if they are, the story is going to develop in a predefined order. First, absentation: the hero or someone close to him leaves the security of his or her home. For example, Little Red Riding Hood goes to see her grandma, Snow White goes to the woods, or Ulyssess starts his journey. This also can be a metaphorical departure, such as the death of a close family member, a common trope in films. Next, interdiction: there is a forbidding command passed upon the hero, for example, don’t touch the spinning wheel. Of course, the hero does exactly that, by violating the interdiction. The plot starts with the function of reconnaissance in which the villain makes the effort needed to fulfill their role as a villain: the villain will acquire information or a treasured item, and will succeed in such an act.

Our hero is an ex chef Robin “Rob” Fled, living in a secluded forest with his pig, who helps him collect truffles. His only connection with the outside world is Amir, a young seller who comes on Thursdays and buys the collected truffles. One day, he is assaulted, and the pig is taken from him. This leaves Rob with a difficult decision: he must leave his cloistered sanctuary and find his pig. The trail points to the city, and even though Amir refuses to take him there, Rob insists. A careful reader will notice that all of the Propp’s functions have been fulfilled so far.

Soon, we find out that pig isn’t necessary for Rob in order to forage truffles. He loves the pig, and the reason for the journey is purely an emotional one. Isn’t this the main motif in all of the fairy tales, the quest done for the sake of love? Other Propp’s functions will be fulfilled throughout the film, including a “magical” agent, which is often magical food in fairy tales, but in this case, it is going to be chef’s magic. I’d like to leave this as an exercise to the reader. I’m claiming here that, throughout the film, we’re mostly witnessing a fairy tale, that’s why the film hits the spot. Because it follows the recipe of success, and that’s the recipe with standard plot elements, compared to culinary tried-and-tested recipes Rob has followed throughout his career. But unlike fairy tales, this movie has Cage in one of his best roles ever. I’ll repeat again: I’ve expected standard Nicolas Cage fun, I didn’t expect to write about this film at all. And yet, here we are. We all anticipated a bonkers story, but here we have a beautifully realized standard fairy tale, entangled with gastronomic magical moments, and crowned with great acting. Unpredictable Cage in a predictable plot – that’s what’s unpredictable.

Symmetry and framing are one of the key aspects of Sarnoski’s directing style.

Sarnoski’s directing creates a distinctive mood. The initial shot of the forest has some Stalker-like apocalyptic feeling to it and yet the camera soon moves onto the act of making food, focusing on mixing the flour and the butter, as if you’re watching a new episode of Chef’s Table. And then there’s a pig watching him do it. This leaves your brain a bit baffled, and that’s why it works. To continue, Sarnoski also loves symmetry. The initial scenes reminded me a lot of Visconti’s way of framing his heroes using doors and windows, thus even more emphasizing the separation between the two worlds. Sarnoski also employs a Tarkovskian way of keeping the same scene for a while to create tension. Rob is going to look at the pot from which the pig ate not long ago. There is no food and there is no pig anymore. But he sees the pot at his doorstep, and in that moment, Rob knows he has to go.

Tarkovskian methods are often used when a scene goes on for a while, in order to induce tension, combined with focal framing using doors and windows as borders.
Windows and doors may connect, but also separate. Long shots using interior and exterior framing are often used in Pig.

The hero’s journey is then amplified using scenery as a way to show him being small in comparison. Rob has been isolated for years, and the scenery engulfs him. When he reaches a small diner, he’s again seen through a door, pinpointing the difference between a desolate man and the society going on without him. But near the end of the story, he is going to confirm he liked his old restaurant better without the curtains. Maybe it’s a way of admitting that solace was not what he had expected.

Sarnoski uses sceneries for symmetry and framing as well, especially for emphasizing how small and isolated the hero might feel.

We have mentioned the adoption of symmetrical shots, seemingly in Kubrick and Anderson tradition. You are going to find wonderful scenes balancing the screen just right. Sometimes there’s an item in focus, and sometimes it’s a way of arranging individuals within the society or people inside the scenery: symmetry is here to bring order into seemingly incompatible pairs. In postmodern films, symmetry is often discarded because the shot might seem like a construct, destroying the audience’s immersion. But it works perfectly here, since Sarnoski takes the best traditional elements, and deconstructs them, the same way Rob talks with a chef who is trying to deconstruct traditional dishes. That chef wasn’t happy doing it, but I hope Sarnoski was.

Symmetrical shots are present throughout the film, deconstructing the postmodern tradition.

“You made the right choice being out there in the woods. You had your moment, but there’s nothing here for you anymore”, the villain says to Rob at one point. “There’s really nothing here for most of us”. There might not be a higher purpose, this hero might not save the world, there is probably nothing out there, but much like in real life, we will not make drastic changes or plot a universal vengeance. We will just go on. And even though you might feel robbed of an emotional payoff having watched this film, this is exactly why it’s so real. And that’s why, even though it has all the necessary elements, it stops being a fairy tale. It’s just life.



  • Propp, Vladimir (1927/2009). Morphology of the Folk Tale. Austin: University of Texas Press.

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