Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Analysis: The use of Pigs in Film

Pigs can be used symbolically in film to represent and/or embody certain beliefs and values. The pig has some positive connotations, linking them with intelligence, fertility, luck and abundance. Most people are more familiar with the negative associations, linking pigs with ignorance, idleness, uncleanliness, greed, overindulgence and rampant lust.

Aside from the adorable movie 'Babe', the majority of films choosing to elect pigs as there totem tend to focus on these negative affiliations.

Here follows a brief analysis of how pigs have been depicted in film and what they have been used to symbolise.

Stephen King's 'Carrie' is the story of a telekinetic, shunned protagonist raised by a devoutly Christian mother, who is harshly rejected and humiliated by her peers at the school prom. Carrie's character is linked with blood immediately. Having not been raised to understand the natural functioning of her womanly body, she fears that the onset of her menstruation means that she is bleeding to death. Her class mates assault her with tampons and sanitary towels, leaving Carrie weeping in ignorance.
On prom night, Carrie and her date are drenched in buckets of pigs blood. The image is visceral and vibrant as Carrie, formerly dressed in virginal white, transforms into a blot of scarlet.
In one sense, this is a very visual way to represent her transformation from innocent, passive, victim to experienced, active attacker. It is only after she is drenched in pigs blood before an audience that she commits murder multiple times and burns her school to the ground. Blood for women is obviously very relevant as a form of initiation: that of transcending childhood into womanhood. Men have no such obvious heralding of there transition, hence why they feel the need to create initiations and ceremonies of there own to indicate such a passing. Mother Nature has marked out a very particular, inherent, internal ritual to signal for each individual girl when her womanhood has begun.
So we can understand the ideas behind blood and innocence and the significance of Carrie having to be drenched with blood before she can finally stand up for herself, but why does the blood need to be pigs blood?
In one sense, it could be a way of depicting that there is something unnatural in Carrie. The showering of pigs blood is her thunderous menstruation. It is also a way of affiliating her more closely with animals than with human beings. It also reflects how her classmates perceive her, and more importantly, how Carrie perceives herself.
Her mother constantly lambasts her with insults that she is unclean, impure and dirty. What could be more symbolic of these insults than to be doused in the blood of pigs? Just as pigs wallow in mud, Carrie wallows in blood. Interestingly, the sacrifice of pigs links to fertility rituals, the mother, the feminine, the devourer, and the underworld. Well, this all seems very relevant to Carrie!
Association with pigs, depending on the culture, was either a sacred or a ridiculed profession. Carrie is both a sacred, blessed being and a cast out one. Pigs blood was also previously used as a powerful purification agent, suggesting Carrie is washing herself clean of her torment and her victimhood. We can see that there is much symbolism in the choice of pigs blood, above sheep's blood or cows blood for instance.
Lord of the Flies
The symbol of the sows head implanted upon a staff in a clearing is one of the most highly charged representations of the pig in film.
It is a haunting and horrible image. The hunters have fully regressed to a primitive state. The impaling of the head represents a true loss of innocence and a reversion to an animalistic way of being.
It is also of relevance that the pigs head belongs to a sow (female). On an all-male island, there is no concept or affiliation with the feminine or with the mother. Almost as an act of separation from the female and entry into manhood, the boys desecrate the sacred sow and leave her head for all to see. This is a violent rejection of female influence. The only feminine voice heard in the film is the voice of 'Auntie' recounted through Piggy.
Without feminine influence to balance out masculine aggression, the island and the boys relationships to one another are destabilised and quickly turn to violence and murder. The displayed sows head is a clear way of saying, "We are men. There are no women here". It is a sacrificing of the female, the woman and the mother.
The boys leave a note beside the impaled head which reads, "The head is for the beast. It's a gift". There regression is exemplified by the desire of formerly civilised and rational men, to sacrifice animal matter to an unrevealed entity that they fear is terrorising them. The less the boys are bound to civilisation, the deeper there believe in monsters and beasts.
The sows head, the 'Lord of the Flies' speaks to Simon whilst he is in a trance-like state. The Lord expresses to Simon that the beast the boys fear exists within them. The beast is part of them. Ralph also later has an encounter with the Lord, and although it does not communicate with him (perhaps Ralph lacks the intuition of Simon), it does goad him from it's stand causing him to smash it to the ground where it still appears to grin up at him.
The pig here represents all that is bad in the boys: greed, excessive search for pleasure, consumption, ignorance and idleness. All of these negative traits will lead to there downfall if they continue. And yet the beast promises that as it is part of them, they are unable to fully escape it's clutches. They need not be afraid of what is outside, for this is a good island, but for what exists inside of them.
The killing of a sow is particularly pertinent to this, as the murdering of a mother means that she will be unable to raise piglets or breed. Eventually, if the boys were to murder all sows, they would run out of pig to hunt and consume, all through there own reckless lack of forethought.
If we consider the story in terms of original sin, the pigs head is the devil, it is all that is fallen in man. 'Lord of the Flies' is interchangeable for Lucifer or Satan. The Arabic translation of 'Lord of the Flies' is Beelzebub, one of Lucifer's monikers. The significance of the choir boys (religious, Godly boys) becoming the most violent and ungodly is a powerful reminder of the devils germination within every individual.
Why does it need to be a pigs head? The pigs head is paradoxically the food they eat and the behaviour they imitate. The boys are becoming nothing more than a tribe of violent, consuming, greedy boars. Pigs flesh is said to be the closest to human flesh. The pigs and the boys are more similar than they imagine.
Animal Farm
An allegorical, dystopian discussion of the corrupting influence of power, and in particular totalitarian communism. All of the animals on the farm are interchangeable for prolific Communist party figures running rampant in Soviet Russia.
Why would it be necessary to compare politicians to pigs? There is definitely something that human beings find relatable about pigs. There intelligence, there flaws and there impulsiveness are all uniquely human. Perhaps they are the closest animal to us in many respects, and the easiest way to characterise man's fall. If we extrapolate mans follies and faults into an animal to better analyse and understand it, perhaps the pig is the best animal to embody us.
The pigs begin on equal terms with the other animals on the farm, overthrowing the farmer that forces them to work and beginning a revolution. Eventually, the pigs expand to become the new masters of the farm rather than operating in synchronicity with the other animals.
The most powerful image occurs at the end, when the pigs, fully clothed and standing on two feet, smoke cigars and laugh with human beings. They have transformed from animals into humans. Usually, human beings are shown to regress to a de-evolved animal state, but here animals are depicted as humble, noble and purposeful. It is the humanising of them that corrupts the animal. It is impossible for the animals to now tell pig or man apart. Again, man and pig are interchangeable. The pig here represents the worst of human foibles: greed, selfishness, destruction, laziness and boorishness.  
The Saw Series
If you like your horror movies, you will be familiar with the Saw series. A serial killer known as Jigsaw, working with several apprentices, kidnaps those whom he feels do not value or appreciate living, indulging in destructive or sinful behaviours, such as voyeurism, drug abuse, overeating and infidelity.
He captures his victims with the use of a chilling pig mask to conceal his true identity. This horrifically lifelike masks primary intention is to reflect back what Jigsaw sees in his victims. He perceives them as sinned, flawed, fallen. They are basically pigs to him, animals that can't control there impulses but with all the intelligence and potential to be trained and salvaged. It is also reflective of the wearer who is contaminated by a disease. The original concept was to use a rotting head to reflect the rot present in Jigsaw.
So the mask serves the function of concealment necessary to the advancement of the narrative but it also symbolises the way each character is perceived by the Jigsaw killer. It also pays homage to the year in which Jigsaw began his work, the Chinese year of the pig. Interestingly, to be a 'pig' in Chinese astrology is connected with purely negative connotations. The pig is lazy, greedy and always last.
As you can see, pigs are quite a fascinating symbol and abound in movies!

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