It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There can be found in the back pages of various health magazines a small advertisement for colonic irrigation. It is illustrated with a drawing of what looks like several tons of lava bursting forth from the earth's core. I have never mailed away for the booklet offered, and now that I've seen "The Road to Wellville," I don't think I need to. The movie is like an expedition through the digestive tract with gun and camera.
It tells the story of an extraordinary period in the history of Battle Creek, Mich. ("Cereal Bowl to the Nation"), when the town was the center of a boom in corn flakes and other aids to proper nutrition and irrigation. Battle Creek was to flakes as the Yukon was to gold, and towering above the other local reformers was the remarkable Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the corn flake, peanut butter and various medieval instruments to scrub the body inside and out. (To give you an idea of the doctor's greatness, it was his younger brother W.K., a $6-a-week hireling, who went on to found the cereal kingdom.) "The Road to Wellville," written and directed by Alan Parker from T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel, is a hymn to American cults of hygiene, nutrition and cleanliness. Such groups have historically flourished in Southwest Michigan, where as a youth I once was taken to the House of David, watched their long-bearded baseball team, and ordered from a vegetarian menu in which all the meat-words were in quotation marks - the word "turkey" indicating that the active ingredient, while impressively turkeyoid in appearance, had a closer kinship to the oat or the bean.
Today I am essentially a vegetarian, so the joke's on me.
And Parker has no doubt it is a joke. While it is certainly much healthier for anyone to eat no meat and take no alcohol, caffeine or tobacco, "The Road to Wellville" uses those notions as mere stepping-stones to greater and goofier reforms. Kellogg, played grandiloquently by Anthony Hopkins as a bucktoothed little drum-beater, condenses his beliefs into little sayings: The tongue is the billboard of the bowels. We are but lifeguards on the shores of the alimentary canal. An erection is a flagpole on your grave. As the movie opens, we see him demonstrating that under a microscope, pig droppings cannot be distinguished from a porterhouse.