A group of young girls argue with each other on what they’ve seen and done on Instagram as they walk on street. One of their fathers calls and the girl starts to come up with excuses for why she hasn’t come home yet. Suddenly people around them start to run. We follow the girls until we see a chopped off head on the sidewalk. This is how Pig starts. All this time, the sound has made us uncomfortable to finally give us the final shock. The sound of the girls talking over each other mixed with the urban noises, especially car noises, mixes with the music to create an overwhelming soundscape that makes the viewer feel uncomfortable. This is Pig. You’re going to feel disturbed many times as you also laugh and get shocked many times.
This brilliant dark comedy should not come as a surprise, as Mani Haghighi, its writer and director, has been making a steady progress in his filmmaking. From Men at Work to Modest Reception and then A Dragon Arrives, he has shown interest in dark humor that puts the viewers on the edge of their seats. Like his previous film, A Dragon Arrives, Pig is also a genre-bending movie, a surrealist musical political thriller comedy.
A serial killer is targeting top filmmakers in the country. He kills them, chops off their heads, and carves “Khook” (Persian word for pig) with knife on their forehead. Pig is considered the ultimate dirtiness in Iranian culture. If someone is called pig, it means they are considered utterly corrupt. Soon, we learn that the head we saw was Mani Haghighi’s, even though he is actually not the first target. The film reminds the Iranian viewer of the chain assassinations (Ghatl-ha-ye Zanjirei) of Iranian intellectuals in the late 1990s. However, the film goes beyond and portrays a society that is very familiar to contemporary global citizens.
In this society, intellectuals are either murdered or led to self-destruction. The power of the system lies in how they manipulate the public to lead their intellectuals to annihilate or transform themselves. Kasmaei, the film’s protagonist, is a filmmaker who has been banned from filmmaking for quite some time. His mistress, Shiva Mohajer, has stopped working, waiting for him to make his next film. Sohrabi, an obviously pretentious filmmaker, flirts with her and asks her to play in his film. This becomes a big source of jealousy for Kasmaei and a big source of tension between Kasmaei and Shiva. When Sohrabi and Shiva are killed, Kasmaei cannot accept that not only he is not on top of the serial killer’s list, but he’s actually below a filmmaker like Sohrabi. He feels that he’s been forgotten and ignored.
At the same time, he once threatened Shiva to kill her and Sohrabi when he found out Shiva was going to play in Sohrabi’s film. A woman who has a crush on him and stalks him recorded a video of him making that threat and posted it on Instagram. Now, the society thinks Kasmaei is the murderer. As Kasmaei has not been killed and he has threatened to kill, everyone believes he’s the killer. As simple as this, this dissident filmmaker who is banned from filmmaking and used to be admired by people is now the target of a huge conspiracy theory. He is soon led to a huge self-destruction and suicide. The system is getting rid of one of its opposing voices not by killing him but by making everyone think he’s harmful for the society and has to be eliminated. The state banned Kasmaei from work and pushed him to do superficial commercials and live a different life. But that was not enough to make him a villain in people’s eyes. That task should be left to people themselves with a nudge and invisible leadership from the system. Sounds familiar? This is the modern way of authoritarianism that is especially practiced in the West, but of course there are instances of it in Iran as well.
Haghighi, in one of his most accomplished directing experiences, uses sound and image to create the lack of stability and comfort in this world and in the protagonist. All the elements of the soundscape work together to createan overwhelming feeling in the viewer. People who talk over each other and repeat the same sentence over and over, like in the first scene or in the scene when Kasmaei is driving to hospital to identify Haghighi’s head (Why is he doing that? Doesn’t Haghighi have a family?). The music and sound effects are also mixed to add to this feeling.
A combination of Iranian and Western music in the score is a stylistic choice to expand the world’s place beyond Iran’s borders. This is a global phenomenon. This is a global society. People dance to a Western music as they dress up as Iran’s historical figures.
The musical scenes come unexpectedly and lighten the mood. The opening credits are displayed on a dancing scene that clearly references the film 42nd Street (1933) and The Big Lebowski (1998). Pig is full of references to films. Kasmaei resembles the Dude in Lebowski. His low-key attitude and his way of clothing reminds the viewer of the Dude. The scene in which he is sleeping in the detectives’ car and is left alone on a desert is an obvious reference to that film. The carving of “Khook” with knife on people’s forehead also refers to Tarantino’s Inglourious Bastards, where Lt. Raine (Brad Pitt) carves the Swastika sign on the forehead of Nazis, like Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz).
Haghighi also uses color to create mood. He uses a motif of red and green, the opposite colors on the color palette to create a high contrast and unearthly world—the same style used in films like Amelie. This high contrast also lets the red stand out in the image more easily. In the film, red is associated with the protagonist. His cast of women playing the role of cockroaches, him wearing red in the climax of the movie, and the blood he interacts with in multiple scenes, including the very last scene, all come out in the image as red. Hence, the wise choice of putting those red motifs next to cool colors, especially red’s complementary color, green, makes the protagonist a clear outsider in this outlandish world. Remember that Pig, the serial killer, was also wearing a blue jacket.
Pig is a critique of our modern societies, where citizens have created a surveillance environment in which nobody is safe. The abundant use of cellphones in this film is a reflection of their apocalyptic abundance in our lives, where we mainly communicate with each other through those screens and we watch each other, record each other, and destroy each other through those devices. If surveillance used to be limited to the state and institutions of power, now every citizen is a spy and a judge. The states do not need to make much effort anymore. The people are already at work destroying each other and their intellectuals.