What a delightful little film this is.
16 minutes long, Pickle is a labor-of-love documentary by Amy Nichols about her parents Tom and Debbie Nichols and their attachment to misfit animals.
The Nicholses live on a farm, but the film is about their pets, not animals raised as part of a farming business. When they married, Tom notes, his only pet was a Newfoundland. That quickly changed.
Not only do they have a penchant for adopting pets, but these pets are of a vast number of species, mostly not conventional pet species. Furthermore, many if not most of their adoptions are rescues of animals with problems, in some cases huge problems.
They tell the story of a number of these oddball pets. The film ends up having a certain focus on death. Each story of each animal tells how it came to be adopted, what its disabilities or whatever were and how the Nicholses dealt with those, and, inevitably, how it died.
It seems like the bulk of the animals they talk about either were supposed to die quickly and overcame the odds by surviving for years, or died suddenly and unexpectedly. In the former category are the sickly cat that somehow staggered through 18 years before they saw that it was so far gone that it would need to be put to sleep, and then promptly lived another 5 years, and another cat with a bad heart that was given six months to live by the vet and died 17 years later.
In the latter category are animal after animal after animal after animal attacked and killed by wild animals. I never realized how incredibly dangerous farms apparently are. I guess when you think about it, a farm is mostly large open spaces more like the wild than some urban or controlled environment, so it stands to reason that predators would exist there, and animals would do to animals what they have been doing for as long as animals have existed. But it’s rather stunning, and at times comical, when story after story ends with this animal being killed by a snake, this one by a fox, several by hawks, and on and on.
But besides all the death, certainly the most striking thing about the film is how fucked up so many of these animals were when the Nicholses took them in, and the extremes they went to in order to give them as good a life as they could.
Tom describes the cat who ultimately lived to 23 as having “the meanest, nastiest” disposition, having a messed up mouth with fangs sticking out, having claws it was incapable of retracting, being cross-eyed, being emaciated, always throwing up, and whining constantly like it was in permanent discomfort—and then concludes with, “which made it a really fun cat to be around,” and I’m pretty sure he’s not being sarcastic. I mean, everything about these animals that would cause any normal person to run in the opposite direction (or to put the poor things out of their misery), cause these two to fall in love with them.
Or consider the opossum. First of all, that they have a “pet” opossum is already bizarre enough. But this is one they found near death by the side of the road, run over by a car I suppose. It was scraped and bruised and covered in blood and bugs, and most significantly had had both its back legs crushed and pulled from the socket such that it could never possibly walk again.
So they took it home and nursed it back to health, and Tom built a little scooter thing on wheels that they strapped it to so it could get around. It lived as their house pet for several years. Tom talks about the scrambled eggs and other human food they routinely fed it, even though “you’re not supposed to feed that to possums,” and how he would sometimes give him a full shampoo and blow dry him, adding, “but not every night,” so you won’t think it’s weird or anything.
The title character of the film is a badly deformed fish they named “Pickle” because by the nature of his handicaps he was “in a pickle.” He had a major birth defect where he was born with a head and a tail but missing pretty much the whole body in between, one of the consequences of which was that he wasn’t able to remain upright and would fall on his side and sink to the bottom of the water.
They found him (How by the way? This isn’t a goldfish or something they found in their fish tank, but something out in a pond or lake. How do you just happen to come across something like that if it naturally floats to the bottom of the body of water and can’t really function or do anything necessary to remain alive?), brought him home, put him in a tank, and made a little structure out of sponge that they could stick him in upright that would hold him up, and each day they’d drop food right next to him where he could get it without having to move from his structure. (I guess fish aren’t like sharks in having to constantly swim forward in order to get oxygen and stay alive.) He lived that way for four years and would have lived longer if the tank hadn’t malfunctioned and electrocuted him one day.
The Nicholses couldn’t be more cheerful in sharing these stories. They take great delight in this hobby of theirs, and love every one of these kooky animals as much as anyone loves their treasured dog or cat (or probably human relative, for many people).
Pickle is very well filmed and edited to keep it moving and keep it funny and interesting, and it is well augmented with fun music and fun animations. The Nicholses are as likable as they clearly find badly disabled animals to be. This is just a winner all around.