I think, therefore I am. I remember, therefore I have been. But if I forget, did I really exist?
The movies love amnesia. Start with a character who has lost his memory and you immediately intrigue the audience with a mystery that puts them on the same page as the protagonist. Every time we go to the movies it should be like we’ve got a bout of amnesia ourselves, our brains rebooted for a whole new experience, a venture into the unknown. Not every movie provides a completely fresh encounter, but there’s usually enough there that’s distinct as far as the movie filling our mind with a visual story we haven’t exactly encountered before. Amnesiac movies are therefore a great reflexive exercise for the viewer, giving us a character to identify with on a fundamental level.
Pig, an indie sci-fi flick that was recently released on DVD and streaming outlets (namely Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube), is one of those amnesiac movies. They all tend to seem alike from the get-go, so lazy comparisons to Memento have been made, but aside from the superficial premise being that there’s a guy investigating who he is, there’s not a lot of similarity. After all, as I noted, Pig is science fiction. To go into detail regarding its qualification for this genre, though, is to spoil where the investigation leads us. What I can say is that the movie deals with memory in a way inspired by Ray Kurzweil and relative to Philip K. Dick, only not based in artificial recall. I guess thematically it’s maybe more like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in how it pertains to memory subtraction rather than addition. But that movie sticks to how memories add up to love. Pig explores how memories add up to human existence.
Written and directed by Henry Barrial, Pig is the story of a guy who comes to in the desert with a black hood over his head and his hands bound together. A woman with a young son finds him and takes him in while he tries to make sense of his identity and origins. As he begins his detective work, though, he seems to suddenly arrive back in the desert, again without any memory of anything that happened beforehand. There’s a touch of that Groundhog Day-associated do-over trend that’s popular these days (a few more of them could be seen at SXSW this month), but in this version only the audience is aware of the repeated scenario and the character is not. That isn’t to say we in the audience are all that aware of much regarding what, how or why — keeping the suspense going — just that we’re maybe a smidgen ahead of the guy at times. Maybe.
Through the investigation, the amnesiac finds pieces of information that appear to define who he is or was, and not all of it fits well together. Meanwhile, he has brief flashes of the past, nothing that means much to him as they are. At one point he realizes he speaks another language but doesn’t know why. He comes across people who are familiar with him, at least physically, but they claim he’s different now, as if perhaps he’s a nicer guy because he’s forgotten that he’s not (we’ve seen a similar circumstance in the Bourne Identity movies). So, the movie asks, is he in fact the same person without his an identification with his past? Is he human at all if he has no memory? If he seems not to even dream? Or is he more like a machine, like a computer that can be wiped clean and restarted anew?
In Blade Runner (based on Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), similar questions are asked about what makes one human. There, robots are given consciousness and memory and so don’t realize they’re not human. Some of those memories are implanted, and some are added through experiences. These artificial beings seem to also dream. The movie contemplates the idea of machines being made indistinguishable from humans through addition of memory to the former, while Pig contemplates the same idea through subtraction of memory from the latter. Although nothing alike in aesthetics or tone, the two movies are like counterparts in a philosophical conversation, approaching the topic from opposing directions and reaching the same conclusion — or non-conclusion.
For its outcome, Pig goes with a very expositional denouement, one that breaks with the narrative as abruptly and interruptive as the Professor’s explanatory introduction in North by Northwest and briefly resembles a documentary in the way it presents us with some greater semblance of what’s going on in the plot. It’s more to the point than Blade Runner is, albeit with ambiguity remaining in the larger inquiries, and in doing so unites its employment of sci-fi with its interest in current truths. In a way, all science fiction, no matter how fantastical or futuristically set, are about the present — the issues we’re seeing today and our wonder about the world and philosophy and psychology and physics now. Pig reminds us of that fact more than most in its genre do.
The singularity is not yet here, for instance, but consideration of what it means has been and is, the discussion rebooted with each great new film addressing the subject with a different approach. Pig might not wind up a classic like Blade Runner, but its ideas will permeate in your brain as long as that movie’s do/have. So long as you don’t lose your memory and all those ideas along with it, that is.