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Road to Wellville

In the 1860s, a boom demand for corn flakes and colonic irrigation created a remarkable time in Battle Creek, Michigan, "Cereal Bowl to the Nation," a hotbed of study and practice of unusual diets and health techniques. The most successful local practitioner was indefatigable, vegetarian Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (Hopkins), who invented corn flakes, peanut butter, and tools to scrub the body inside and out. His younger brother W.K., whom he paid $6 per week, later founded the cereal company. Cults of hygiene, nutrition, and cleanliness historically flourish in the U.S., arising not only in Michigan, but New Jersey and western states. Parker is jocular: the film doesn't deny that we're healthier for not eating meat, not using alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco, but Kellogg had greater - even goofy - methods. He believes: "The tongue is the billboard of the bowels," and "We are but lifeguards on the shores of the alimentary canal." The movie opens as he demonstrates that, under a microscope, pig feces look like steak.

People craving better health flock to his famed Sanitarium (not sanatorium) for cures to remove toxins. Patients include Eleanor and Will Lightbody (Fonda and Broderick) (married couples are separated, but Will's celibacy isn't strictly enforced, thanks to cheerful Nurse Graves (Lind)). Some patients have oddities: Ina Munta (Boyle) is turning green, and a Russian (Slanksnis) has overwhelming flatulence. Their health concerns become preoccupation, as they endure odd, sometimes-dangerous therapies, some at once solemn and hilarious.((Meanwhile, an unscrupulous pair of men - a Don Juan, Charles (Cusack), and schemer Goodloe Bender (Lerner) - want to make and sell corn flakes; they recruit young George Kellogg (Carvey), one of J.H.'s 42 adopted children. The Doctor attracts weird practitioners: German sex therapists use battery-powered devices to massage the genitals.

People inclined to agree with aspects of Kellogg's work will enjoy the movie most. Many of us visit health food stores, entranced by products from meat substitutes to soy milk, slimming teas, and esoteric remedies, or gaze, fascinated, at ads for gadgets that offer "a new body in three weeks." But unusual, effective health methods have a long history in the U.S., as shown here.
Director(s): Alan Parker
Writer(s): Alan Parker, from T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Matthew Broderick, Briget Fonda, John Cussack, Dana Carvey, Traci Lind, L
Release Date: 1994   
Keyword: Battlefield, Michigan; Kellogg; health camp; vegetarians
Target Age: 13+   Category: health
Documentary: no
Language: English   Reviewer's Name: Micah
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