The latest Nicolas Cage vehicle plays against expectations in nearly every possible way, subverting its plot’s ludicrousness, its genres’ thematic and skeletal trajectories, and even the direction of the central performance itself.
The film is essentially a transcendental noir, hitting the beats of the existential path but with an inspired twist that meditates on the universality of loss in order to unlock its reciprocal gratitude for love and enhanced philosophical growth through individualized histories, holding the loneliness and unity together as part of a whole that resembles life’s series of endlessly contradictory- yet complementary- experiences. The narrative postures at the revenge angle before going in a very different direction, inverting this idea by self-reflexively liberating the characters of both the genre's and our own psyche's oversimplified constraints, to locate a third way of compassion that is one preferred answer to pain (a showstopping intimate interaction with a random chef from Cage's past at the midpoint, contemplating what is 'real' and what is a mirage of truth, professes the value of this expanded consciousness in a raw, impactful manner). This film repeatedly finds the hope within the fatalism from noir, recognizing the comprehensive finality and our powerlessness over history, events, and time- or objective fate- and simultaneously acting as an anti-noir, empowering endless subjective optimism within the opportunities around us to develop our spiritual self through remaining present.
Cage is great, demonstrating the gravity of a man with vast psychological wear on his soul without saying much at all, but Adam Arkin arguably has the more challenging role, as he is singlehandedly required to sell the crescendo of this novel course just right in order to prevent the entire work from caving in on its own risky wavelength, and he succeeds with precision of attuned idiosyncrasies that can’t be explained or taught, but are sincere within emotional logic we can glean with affinity. This is a film that takes itself quite seriously and earns its evolved spine, following noir peripherally while focusing efforts on the layers of psychospiritual meaning divorced from, and intertwined with, our social environments; our narratives bonded to history.
In a strange way, this is the small indie film answer to what Nolan did with Tenet (and most of his films really), which took high-stakes sci-fi concepts and a Bond-spy framework to extract a rumination on the weight of empathy we feel so monumentally it’s inexplicable- only Pig reaches greater poignant depths, is more philosophically complex, and utilizes its genre sandboxes with more carefully targeted inversions to its tropes (to degrees that would be amusingly cheeky if the film wasn’t so damn austere- though it’s got enough of a sense of humor to wink in recognition of its eccentricities in a few intentionally humorous moments= plus it kinda turns into a mismatched buddy-road movie for a while there too!)
The film isn't venturing in a blanket-optimist direction though, as its central conceit validates our drive to hide away from the world due to unmanageable suffering. I also love Matt Zoller Seitz's reading of the film being about our own psychological processes for personal myth-making, for it stretches this heftiness of stakes we hold our life expectations to in a manner that deconstructs these as falsely defined solipsisms and also incites a unique informative approach to authenticate their subjective rationality. I was left awestruck and inspired to reframe the past, my losses, and my present circumstances into treasure, as momentary stones leading to a brighter future. On a personal note, as someone who just lost two cats - the first and only pets/animals I’ve ever loved, and who I’ve been mourning incessantly as of late- this was cathartic beyond words on both very specific and abstract planes. Additionally, this was the first in-person screening IFF Boston hosted since Portrait of a Lady on Fire back in early Nov 2019, so it was a perfect thematic extrapolation of the possibilities and hope awaiting the immediate future of harmonic collective engagements around art.