Is the movie “Pig” for or against foodies?

(Perhaps it’s post-foodie)

The movie Pig, starring Nicolas Cage, tells of a recluse who leaves the woods in search of his stolen truffle-hunting pig in Portland, Oregon, where he was once an influential chef.

It mightn’t be everyone’s cup-of-tea; it’s filmed grimly almost entirely in the dark; Cage speaks somewhere between a growl and a mumble;  but I thought it great.

It’s a counterpoint to both the Truffle Hunters, about Italian men and their dogs, and SBS’s The Beach, showing Warwick Thornton cooking, and looking, for himself.

An even closer (although less successful) comparison would have to be the recent ABC-TV series, Aftertaste, about an authoritarian chef seeking to redeem himself back in the Adelaide Hills.

Mind you, Pig starts out deceptively as if about a brutal guy – with only a pig to share his meals – fighting the world. But it soon heads elsewhere, although exactly where, as in any decent artwork, can withstand endless interpretation. I won’t reveal too much, in case you intend taking the journey.

While the orthodox movie critics, with few exceptions, praise the movie highly, and especially the performances, the rest of the internet helps answer the big question, which is whether it’s pro- or anti-foodie.

Take this from the New Republic:

Pig cuts straight through foodie hypocrisy

The overwrought film from Michael Sarnoski contains a fundamental truth about a very sick industry.

It’s about time America became disenchanted with foodies. Pig, Michael Sarnoski’s foodie noir about loss, love, and labor in Portland, Oregon’s restaurant scene, doesn’t leave them much room for redemption…

This critic, Jan Dutkiewicz, disapproves of “obnoxious” restaurants and “foodie writing—think Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman and their literary progeny”. He opposes “elitist” fetishizing. And he congratulates the movie, which he didn’t seem to like much, for also exposing the industry’s abuse of workers and animals. (As a scholar, Dutkiewicz works on “improving the treatment of animals through the legal system”.)

The scathing, non-comprehending reviewer in the New Yorker declares the movie’s key moment to be when our martyr apparently learns “the awful truth of the restaurant world and of the world at large”.

Or we could take this:

‘Pig’ Review: A truly brilliant foodie movie

Not wanting not to spill the beans, Nick Johnston writes:

What I will say is that this is one of the great modern Food movies, and I would not be surprised to see allusions to it pop up in culinary culture over the next few years … It’s about our authentic relationships to the food we eat and the emotions and memories that come along with any given meal.

Other commentators remain enticingly ambiguous, like Sydney Morning Herald’s Jake Wilson, who says:

Moody, foodie drama with a menacing side serve of parody

… But he’s a foodie not a fighter, and the kind of reverential treatment that might be given to a samurai sword in a Tarantino movie is here more likely to go to a salted baguette.

Hillary Dixler Canavan organised a roundtable for the foodie website, Eater.com, where she’s a restaurant writer, familiar with Portland, and “obsessed” about the movie.

A Heated Discussion About ‘Pig,’ the Movie of the Summer

Eight Eater editors debate and dissect the new Nicolas Cage film about a man’s search for his beloved truffle pig

The foodies’ reactions turn out to be mixed, including Canavan’s:

It would have annoyed me much less if the film’s most important women weren’t dead or in a coma.

Needless to say, the theme of women gone missing is central to the movie. When a sympathetic baker recalls former times, and she finally hugs the grizzled hero, the camera pointedly retains its distance. A woman suddenly revealed in close-up is an intense movie high point.

So, is Pig foodie or anti-foodie? One answer could be that it’s anti-bad-foodie and pro-good-foodie, but I hesitate to divide foodies into, say, “deep” and “shallow”, even when I suspect fetishising.

I’d rather think of Pig as post-foodie in that it treats restaurant dining – and transcendent meals, in particular – with the utmost seriousness, while at the same time satirising ridiculous hype.

It’s not just about sublime tastes either, but very much also about the pleasure of sharing with a loved-one. At the climax, the tragedy turns out to be dining in the absence of not just a pig, but treasured human companions.

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