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“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
This well-worn proverb opens Quentin Tarantino’s two-part epic Kill Bill, as the Bride (Uma Thurman) seeks to hunt down each of her enemies in turn. The violent revenge-thriller genre often features victimized protagonists who take justice into their own hands. A recent revenge trilogy, John Wick, features a deadly assassin back in the underground crime world after his puppy is murdered.
When the trailer for Pig began making the rounds, it looked like another John Wick, but with Nicolas Cage. Cage is no stranger to violent revenge movies (e.g., 2018’s Mandy), which added to the speculation that Pig would fit neatly into that vein. How wrong we were.
While at first the film seems like it might be going down a “bloody revenge thriller” path, Pig—the debut of director Michael Sarnoski—takes some surprising turns that make it one of the most subtly theological films of the year.
Setting the Table for Revenge
Cage plays a mysterious loner, Robin Feld, living off the grid in the Pacific Northwest with his beloved truffle-hunting pig. A former world-class chef from Portland, Robin is now a man broken by his wife’s death 15 years earlier. Pig starts out like a typical revenge movie when Robin’s pig is stolen and he is viciously assaulted. The pig is not only Robin’s beloved companion, but also a lucrative money-maker in Portland’s thriving and competitive food industry.
Robin gets the help of his young business partner Amir (Alex Wolff), who happens to be the son of a wealthy and cutthroat food industry bigwig, Darius. The plot thickens when it turns out Darius is the one responsible for stealing the pig. The table is set for what is certain to be a tale of cold-blooded vengeance. Only it isn’t (spoilers ahead).
Pig is filled with broken people. Robin is torn apart by grief and loneliness. Amir is a cocky young hotshot, motivated by his father’s emotional abuse to become someone worthy through achievement. Darius is consumed by anger as his wife remains in a coma from which she’ll likely not wake up.
As Pig unfolds, Robin and Amir’s contrasting personalities and animosity slowly shifts to a friendship as both reveal more about their past and inner brokenness. Amir mentions that the only time his parents were truly happy was a during meal they ate at Robin’s famous restaurant many years ago. When Darius refuses to return the pig, Robin subverts the revenge plot and instead offers grace.
Robin remembers every meal he has cooked for each person in his restaurant, and he delicately and meticulously prepares—with Amir’s help—the exact meal that so blessed Amir’s parents years before. The dinner is filled with tension until Darius eventually breaks down in tears, asking, “Why are you doing this?”
Feast of Grace
There are parallels between Robin’s feast and the grace offered us by Christ.
The gospel narratives are filled with stories of Jesus subverting expectations. When those around him anticipate judgment, anger, or violence, Jesus does the opposite. When a prostitute washes Jesus’s feet, he welcomes her. When a woman is caught in adultery and brought before him, he forgives her. When a rebellious son returns home, Jesus describes him being met with a feast and restoration. Biblical grace is not merely avoiding vengeance. It’s giving something good that is undeserved.
Biblical grace is not merely avoiding vengeance. It’s giving something good that is undeserved.
Mercy would look like Robin simply walking away, but grace is Robin taking the stunning, extravagant step of giving Darius a (literal) taste of the old happiness that has eluded him for many years. Grace is traveling all over Portland, procuring rare ingredients to prepare a special meal.
To be sure, Robin also hopes his act of grace will lead Darias to repent and give back his pig—just as God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Robin wants to change Darius. For us as believers, mercy is God not punishing us for our rebellion. Grace is the Father adopting us as children and changing us through his self-giving love.
Grace Leads to Change
In Pig justice is not served, but characters change.
Today’s Western culture is oriented toward judgment, demanding payment when injustice or wrongdoing occurs (often rightfully so). Someone’s past surfaces, and social media rubs their nose in guilt and shame. With torches and pitchforks in hand, the internet mob searches for sinners to cancel or condemn.
It’s not that we should never seek justice or payment for someone’s wrongdoing. But what Pig offers is a meditation on the possibility of forgiveness and grace as a better motivator for character to change.
“When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by infinitely costly grace,” Tim Keller writes, “it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others.”
For Christians, Pig poses a challenging question: What would it look like if we subverted expectations by offering grace instead of shame and vengeance? When we walk in the Spirit of gentleness, kindness, and patience with others in our communities, perhaps we can better break down walls of hostility.
Robin’s character arc powerfully shows how extending grace to others not only changes them, but us as well. Vengeance might seem more appetizing for us, but what if grace is more satisfying and healthy? In a culture of contentious division and broken fellowship, how might we set a warm, hospitable table of grace?