The Eucharist Meal Served by Pig
Editor’s note: This post includes spoilers for Pig.
The marketing team behind Pig really wants to evoke John Wick.
The trailer for Pig reveals little about the plot (quite refreshing these days), but heavily implies that—after someone steals Nicolas Cage's beloved, truffle-hunting pig—he's going to carve a bloody swath through an arcane restaurateur underworld to get it back. Promotional material features the sentence, "Give me back my pig." And yet the movie itself subverts the newly revitalized revenge genre, to which Wick belongs, replacing bloodsport with . . . fine dining. In fact, Pig critiques the myth of redemptive violence in a way that echoes the Christian Eucharist meal (also known as The Lord’s Supper).
The film introduces us to Rob (Cage), who lives in the wilderness with his pig. By day, they hunt truffles; in the evenings, he prepares a shockingly elegant meal despite living in a shack with no utilities. It's the first sign we have that Rob is more than a hermit.
After anonymous ruffians steal his pig, Rob forces his truffle-buyer, Amir (an excellent, understated Alex Wolff), to escort him into the city (an exaggerated version of foodie Portland). As Rob enters this culinary world, it becomes clear he's a figure of some notoriety. After being rebuffed by an old colleague (probably?) he leads Amir to an underground fight club (sort of?) where wait staff bid to beat down chefs who get some monetary reward based on how long they last. It's all opaque, much in the way the Continental and its associated rituals are in the Wickverse. What's clear is that this is a place of violence. And we're primed to see Rob enact violence, righteously baptized by his quest to recover his beloved pig.
Instead, Rob receives the violence, including at that fight club. Indeed, from this point forward, he assumes the personage of Isaiah's “suffering servant,” the mysterious figure who assumes the violence of the empire for the sake of God's people.
Eventually, Rob discovers that the pig has been taken to Portland's trendiest restaurant, run by a chef (David Knell) who started in the industry as a cook under Rob. Here violence is subverted by Rob's gentleness. He chastises his former employee for making food that is beautiful but empty. The chef had dreamed of opening a pub, a plan he abandoned in favor of chasing trendy culinary accolades. Rob warns him, "None of them care about you."
Along the way, we learn more of Amir's story. His father Darius (Adam Arkin) is another shadowy figure in this exaggerated culinary world. His mother is in a coma. Amir has one memory of his parents truly happy: when they returned home from sharing a meal at Rob's restaurant. So when Rob learns that Amir's father is behind the pig theft, he gives Amir a shopping list. But it's not hammers, nail-guns, baseball bats, or other weapons of war. It's a grocery list.
Rob and Amir break into Darius' house and prepare that old meal once more. They serve Darius. When he picks up the wine to drink and smells it, he remembers. Overcome by grief, he confesses to Rob the fate of his pig.
Pig critiques the myth of redemptive violence in a way that echoes the Christian Eucharist meal.
Psalm 23 is perhaps the most beloved song in the ancient Hebrew hymnbook. It's a celebration of God as a good shepherd, one just as concerned with his sheep as Rob is with his pig. In the song, the psalmist sings, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." Growing up, I was taught to read this as a statement of contentment—with God as our shepherd, we need not fear the wolves nipping out our heels. We can instead kick back and enjoy a meal.
Reading Psalm 23 in light of Jesus' final days invites us to a deeper, more dangerous reading of the song. Is it possible that God sets the table not only for us, but for our enemies as well? Is it possible that a table is Jesus' answer to the violence of the world? The gospel writers certainly understood this to be the case, as each of them highlighted the so-called last supper. In Luke's version, Jesus commands the disciples to share bread and wine as his body and blood "in remembrance of me."
The Eucharist meal quickly became central to Christian worship. In many first-century churches, worship centered around a meal (see 1 Corinthians). We understood early that Jesus gave us bread and wine so that we would remember his death-defeating death. In eating and drinking, we recall how Jesus fought the powers of evil—by dying.
Rather than exacting bloody vengeance in Pig, Rob offers peace through meals. He uses the communal act of eating as a way to call people back to their true selves. Rob uses food to restore the humanity of those he meets. In doing so, he reclaims the essential function of food from the artifice and violence of culinary culture. The parody of foodie culture invites us to see the film as a parable—this restaurant underworld represents any fallen human institution that warps what God intended for good into something that poisons and kills.
Rob's invitation to the various persons with whom he shares his table becomes an invitation to us to join him as well. In sharing a meal with him, we're invited to enjoy the table that God sets for us and our enemies. Pig invites us to renounce the violence and dehumanization of the empire and embrace God's gentle, peace-making liberation instead.