Buddy, guy, pig. A farmer tends to his animals with neutral terms like these as he herds them through his lush farm. He clearly cares about them but has stopped short of naming them.
The scenes in "The Last Pig" should be idyllic. Bob Comis, who grew up in the New York suburbs with a childhood of malls and fast food, taught himself the trade of organic pig farming, thinking he could offer an alternative to factory farms.
He raises feeder pigs, he explains with a dismayed tone in his voice. He buys them young and raises them till they're the right weight for the slaughterhouse.
"I try to give them the best life that they could have the short while that they're here," he says.
But after 10 years, Comis has had a change of heart about what he's doing. He's spent 10 years in a trade he once viewed as noble but now finds indefensible.
Director Allison Argo, who's won national Emmy awards for her documentaries, shoots Comis' explanation for what he does and his argument against it almost as a letter of resignation. He's the only human subject, carefully laying out his past and his relationship to the animals, and the cycle of life on the farm that inevitably ends on a trip to the slaughterhouse.
She and cinematographer Joseph Brunette find countless scenes that show the pigs' personality and get past the ingrained cultural view of them as dumb, dirty animals. When they roll in the mud, it's because it's a hot, parched day. They run around the forest, curious as any other animal.
Comis wonders why we view dogs as an elevated species, when pigs have the same responses to stress and anxiety. During a period of depression, he says tending to the animals helped him get by.
While Argo isn't afraid to include scenes at the slaughterhouse, the movie isn't structured like a polemic against eating meat. Instead, it's a thoughtful character study about an individual's evolving beliefs.
Comis set out on a altruistic path — small-scale organic farming where he treats the animals well — and the ending shows that it was just one step toward a better course for him as a farmer.