Lipstick on a Pig
A few months ago, I stepped inside a movie theatre for the first time in over a year. It was a big, splashy musical (I wrote about In the Heights in this column some months back), and I felt it needed to be seen on a big screen. And I realized how much I missed the movies. So, masked and socially distanced, I went back for more. There were some superhero flicks that wouldn’t have been the same at home, but my favorite excursion to the theatre was a relatively small movie with a very small name: Pig.
Having just written a story about a man in search of his lost pet (quick plug: Loyalty, Love & Vermouth comes out in November, folks!), I was drawn to this movie for a couple of reasons. First, it was hyped as a career-best performance by Nicolas Cage (which isn’t overstating the case; he’s very good), and it’s a story about a man in search of his lost pet. But in this case, the pet is a big, hairy pig: a truffle pig, to be exact.
In the movie, Nicolas Cage plays Rob, a man who lives off the grid, deep in the forests of Oregon. Rob lives alone, with his pig, and they spend their days searching for truffles in the woods. Once a week, a man named Amir (Alex Wolff) shows up with a cooler full of groceries (Rob has little use for cash) in exchange for the truffles, which he sells to the chefs in Portland’s high-end foodie scene. Day after day, week after week, Rob lives his remote and peaceful life. But then, his pig is stolen, presumably for her truffle-hunting gifts. When Amir comes to collect the truffles, he is informed that they’re going to get Rob’s pig back.
And that’s pretty much the movie. I won’t spoil the ending, but you pretty much know that the film will be over when Rob gets or doesn’t get his pig back—but there are quite a few surprises along the way. When the search for Rob’s pig takes them to Portland, you learn that Rob used to live there himself, and we get to meet several people from his past. One revelation leads to the next, and eventually we learn what led Rob away from civilization with only a pig for company. At one point, we learn that Rob doesn’t even need the pig to find the prized truffles, he could do that on his own—but even he cannot be utterly, completely alone. The pig, therefore, isn’t simply a pig. It’s his connection to another living thing that allows him to experience his own humanity, to matter—even in the smallest possible way.
If anything I’ve written here makes you the least bit curious, you really ought to check it out—I can’t say more except to tell you that it’s not the movie you think it will be.
A month later, I was at a friend’s home, looking for a movie to watch, and we settled on a film that I thought couldn’t have been more different from Pig. It’s a movie called Swan Song, and it’s about a gay man living in an assisted living facility who is called out of retirement when a socialite in nearby Sandusky, Ohio dies. It turns out she has requested that he do the hair and makeup on her corpse and has left him $25,000 for this purpose.
Udo Kier plays our protagonist, “Mr. Pat”—and if you can look past the kitsch and comedy, the movie is remarkably like Nicolas Cage’s miniature opus. It turns out that Pat was something of a minor legend in Sandusky—as a beautician, drag performer, and out-and-proud trailblazer. And, like Cage’s Rob, Pat meets several colorful characters from his past, including a former client (Stephanie McVay), a protégé (Jennifer Coolidge), an old friend (Ira Hawkins), the ghost of his socialite benefactress (Linda Evans), and her gay grandson (Michael Urie).
As the tale progresses—again, no spoilers—you learn what he meant to Sandusky, but also why he left, and why he resisted coming back. The layers peel back one by one until you don’t just have a story of a weekend, but of an entire life. Oh, and it’s also screamingly funny.
While Rob was looking for a pig for the simple reason that he loved her, Mr. Pat is looking for a piece of his own soul, so that he might finally love himself. Together, they make a double feature about facing our pasts and discovering the impact that each little life can have. One is gritty and dark, the other glitzy and sparkling, both absolutely worth your time. ▼
Eric Peterson hosts a podcast about old movies and modern times called The Rewind Project. His debut novel Loyalty, Love & Vermouth will be released this November.