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Occasionally, one reflects on a bygone era and wonders if they dreamed it all. Have things really happened to make our lives so much better? Did we really just empower someone with compromised morals? Did I really suffer from something that seemed so easy to fix?

Looking back, the time seems like it was all in one’s head…fraught with talking pets and magic mushrooms. If one was to recount such moments visually, one has to start with a very important question:

How best to capture the look of what could have been one long dream?

Told primarily through animation, NUTS! is the story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, who made a name for himself by discovering a treatment for impotence. The treatment was goat testicles (yes, really), and after a few successful treatments, word quickly spread about the miracle cure. What began as a small business running in a general store, soon spawned a hospital, published papers, a whole township, and even a powerful radio station at the dawn of the age of radio.

For every success though, there must be detractors. Brinkley’s detractors were legion. Most of them were politicians looking to reign him in. Are they looking out for the greater good, or grinding axes of their own?

The stories of such people throughout history come laced with high amounts of surrealism. To this end, director Penny Lane’s choice to animate the film goes a long way to underscore the surrealist elements of the story (including those I dare not reveal). Had she relied on interviews with historians, or wistful narration over images from days of yore, we might have had a hard time understanding how such nuttiness came to be. However, by bringing the interactions to life, we are able to get a better grasp on their hopefulness, their absurdity, and their quiet peril.

The beauty of NUTS! comes as we reflect on the past, the viewer wonders about the future. Who in our society is in a similar position, and what might we think of them in the future? Might we wonder why legislators didn’t get out of their way and allow them to work, or might we wonder how we didn’t know better?

As the dust settles on NUTS!, one wonders if we should fear the ambitious. Seldom does ambition go hand-in-hand with serving a greater good…even if it appears to. So if we encounter someone who seems to be building themselves and those around them up, does it behoove us to wonder what stokes their ambition…and how we might be fuel for that fire?  Or does that put us on the wrong side of history, to use a more recently invoked phrase.


NUTS! plays at Hot Docs 2016 today – Saturday, April 30th, 9:45pm at Hart House. It plays again on Wednesday, March 4th – 1pm at The Lightbox. It then plays once more on Saturday May 7th at The Revue – 6pm (official website)