‘Pig’: What the Nicolas Cage movie means to me


“We’re getting my pig back.” Nicolas Cage‘s character says this with utter surety in Pig. And we believe him. We cling to the idea that Robin Feld’s truffle-hunting companion is still alive after being abducted in the middle of the night. Yet when the truth eventually comes out, our hearts sink along with Robin’s. He chokes with emotion and collapses. There are no words in this scene because no words can accurately describe the amount of pain Robin is in.

Going into Michael Sarnoski‘s directorial debut, I feared the worst outcome for the movie’s namesake. This didn’t make it hurt any less when it finally happened on screen, though. For myself, I saw more than another outstanding performance from Cage — I saw myself as a child again. Seeing Robin experience the second most heartbreaking death ever in his life was a reminder of my first brush with loss.

Robin retreated to the Oregon woods following his wife’s passing. The famous chef became a social recluse in the wake of personal tragedy, and along the way, he found solace in a ginger-colored kunekune. When someone later breaks into his isolated cabin one night and takes his friend, Robin returns to the city he left all those years ago. The journey ultimately forces Cage’s character to confront his ignored grief. As dear as the pig was to his heart and soul, she was part of an emotional workaround; one method of escaping everything he found too difficult to endure anymore now that his beloved Lori (Cassandra Violet) was gone.

Similarly, my pig was a way out of everyday pain. My childhood fascination with pigs originated with Babe and Charlotte’s Web; the latter inspired the name of my Vietnamese potbelly, Wilbur. To my shock, my parents brought home a spotted piglet. The real surprise wasn’t so much the gift but the fact that they paid attention to my interests. If there is one word that accurately describes my parents, it would be “inattentive.” Being left in the care of resentful half-brothers as my mother and two fathers worked all day, I found myself quickly learning to survive in the abusive microcosm I called life. Be it cooking at a young age with no adult supervision to finding my way home to a house where no one was waiting up for me, I was for the most part on my own emotionally speaking.

It took me years to realize why I felt so detached from most of my family and why they treated me the way they did. I was born with a dark cloud hanging over my head; I represented my parents’ poor judgment. My mother’s affair with my biological father, while still married to her first husband and my surrogate father, resulted in an unwanted child. Loving me didn’t come easy for them; doing so was like an admission of guilt. To my half-brothers, I symbolized the end of their parents’ marriage, hence the torment and disregard. Meanwhile, my mother couldn’t look at me without being reminded of how much she had hurt her first family.

So when Wilbur came into my life, I thought things would be different between myself and my parents. It felt like they cared about what I enjoyed after years of neglect. At our new home we spent more time together because of Wilbur; my father built a pen outside for Wilbur while my mother doted on him like the livestock she grew up with in Vietnam. I still suffered abuse — emotional, physical, some sexual — but it was tolerable so long as Wilbur was there. We didn’t ever acknowledge the goings-on in our home. There wasn’t a lot of happiness to go around unless Wilbur was involved. Something about that moody, mischievous pig brought a smile to our faces even when we were disheartened behind closed doors.

Everything changed when Wilbur left. A city ordinance and a prying neighbor forced us to give Wilbur up to a farm. I remember the day he left because I cried at school all day knowing Wilbur wasn’t going to be there when I got home. I wasn’t the same after that; none of us were. My mother and father resumed their unique brand of parenting — namely negligence with occasional instances of guilting and psychological harm — while I got lost in the beginning stages of my lifelong depression.

Over time I got used to this life. Parents who chose to work rather than be with me, never attended school functions or helped with my homework. Losing Wilbur was hardly easy, but finding out he later died on that farm shortly after leaving us was one of the worst moments of my life. I immediately broke down reading the letter. Upon hearing the tragic news, my mother did something I never expected. She hugged me. I can count on one hand the times she has ever embraced me. So as she held me and cried with me, I felt uneasy yet comforted. My best friend was definitely gone now, but his death brought myself and my mother together on that one day.

Pig shows an honest depiction of people’s extreme coping mechanisms in times of grief. Robin retreated both physically and mentally while his pig’s captor, Adam Arkin‘s character Darius, closed himself off after losing his wife. They stayed stuck in their traumas as opposed to letting go and moving on. Today I feel arrested by my past because of how involved I am in my parents’ lives; I am their caregiver. The obvious solution is to leave and never look back, but at the same time, I’m trying to forgive my mother and father by helping them. Forgoing a personal life, career opportunities, and friends is indeed a high cost. I’ll never get back these ten years. All I can hope for at this point is to find the same inner strength as Robin and discover my own peace. Maybe even feel like I did when Wilbur was still around.

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