The Cider House Rules

10. The Cider House Rules (1999) [Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexuality, nudity, substance abuse and some violence.]

summary from

Homer is an orphan in remote St. Cloud, Maine. Never adopted, he becomes the favorite of orphanage director Dr. Larch, who imparts his full medical knowledge on Homer, who becomes a skilled, albeit unlicensed, physician. But Homer yearns for a self-chosen life outside the orphanage. When Wally and pregnant Candy visit the orphanage Dr. Larch provides medically safe, albeit illegal, abortions Homer leaves with them to work on Wally’s family apple farm. Wally goes off to war, leaving Homer and Candy alone together. What will Homer learn about life and love in the cider house? What of the destiny that Dr. Larch has planned for him?

directed by: Lasse Hallstrom

starring: Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd, Michael Caine, Kathy Baker, Erykah Badu, Kieran Culkin, Heavy D., Paz de la Huerta, J.K. Simmons, Erik Per Sullivan

Conservo-Libertarian Reviews:
James Bowman
Nehring The Edge
Robert George at the National Review Christian reviews

A Trailer

Abortion/Life content:

Michael Caine: First pregnancy?

Tobey Maguire: Yes, for both.

Caine: I presume you’d prefer handling the delivery?

Maguire: All I said was, I don’t wanna perform abortions. I have no argument with you performing them.

Caine: You know how to help these women. How can you not feel obligated to help them when they can’t get help anywhere else?

Maguire: One: It’s illegal. Two: I didn’t ask how to do it. You just showed me.

Caine: What else could I have shown you, Homer? The only thing I can teach you is what I know. In any life, you have to be of use.

Michael Caine: Dear child, did you, uh, do something to yourself?

Girl: It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me.

Caine: Did you go to someone else?

Girl: He said he was a doctor. I would never have stuck that inside of me. It wasn’t me.

Caine: Listen, you’ve been very brave. I’m going to put you to sleep.

Girl: It wasn’t me.

Caine: Homer, I want you to see this. You won’t feel it anymore. You’ve been very brave. We’ll make it deep.

Nurse: You sure?

Caine: You bet. The fetus is unexpelled. Her uterus is punctured. She has acute peritonitis, and there’s a foreign object. I think it’s a crochet hook. Take this. If she had come to you four months ago and asked for a simple D&C, what would you have done??! Nothing! This is what doing nothing gets you. It means that somebody else is gonna do the job, some moron who doesn’t know how. I wish you’d have come to me, dear child.

[scene change to Caine, Maguire, and Orphan Kieran Culkin digging a grave]

Kieran Culkin: What did she die of?

Caine: She died of secrecy. She died of ignorance.

Kieran Culkin: Oh.

Caine: Homer, if you expect people to be responsible for their children, you have to give them the right to decide whether or not to have children. Wouldn’t you agree?

Tobey Maguire: How about expecting people to be responsible enough to control themselves to begin with?

Caine: How about this child? You expect her to be responsible?

Maguire: I’m not talking about her. I’m talking about adults. You know who I mean. [scen change to the 3 guys driving in a car:] What?

Caine: It’s just — It’s just a marvel to me that you still have such high expectations of people.

Maguire: I’m happy I amuse you.

Caine: Look at it this way. What choice does Buster have? What are his options? Nobody will ever adopt him.

Maguire: Look at it this way. Buster and I are sitting here right beside you. We could have ended up in the incinerator.

Caine: Happy to be alive under any circumstances. Is that your point?

[car screeches]

Maguire: Happy to be alive? Yeah, I guess so.

[Charlize Theron is wheeled out, post-abortion:]

Paul Rudd: How’s she doing?

Michael Caine: Just fine.

Rudd: Good.

Theron: Boy or a girl?

Nurse (Kathy Baker): It’s all over, dear.

Rudd: Yeah, it’s all over, honey.

Theron: I would really like to have a baby one day. I really would.

Nurse: Why, of course. You can have as many children as you want. I’m sure you’ll have very beautiful children.

Caine: Oh, yes. I’m sure. I’m sure. You’ll have Princes of Maine. You’ll have Kings of New England.

Caine: We have to be more than careful of Mrs. Goodhall. She has enough Christian zeal to start her own country. I’d like to give her a little ether.

Woman: So what are you going to do?

Caine: Take this. […]

Nurse: Wilbur, you’re making this up.

Caine: Angela, the board is going to replace me. That is what the new blood is for.

Woman: You mean they’re going to replace you with someone who doesn’t perform abortions.

Caine: Well, we can only guess at that. They are against the law.

Nurse: These credentials are against the law.

[letter written from Tobey Maguire to Michael Caine:]

Dear Dr. Larch: What I’m learning here may not be as important as what I learned from you, but everything is new to me. Yesterday, I learned how to poison mice. Field mice girdle an apple tree; pine mice kill the roots. You use poison oats and poison corn. I know what you have to do. You have to play God. Well, killing mice is as close as I want to come to playing God.

[letter from Caine to Maguire:]

Homer, here in St. Cloud’s, I have been given the opportunity of playing God or leaving practically everything up to chance. Men and women of conscience should seize those moments when it’s possible to play God. There won’t be many. Do I interfere when absolutely helpless women tell me they simply can’t have an abortion– that they simply must go through with having another and yet another orphan? I do not. I do not even recommend. I just give them what they want.

Tobey Maguire: Rose, how many months are you? Do you know? Do you know? Rose?

Erykah Badu: What do you know about it?

Maguire: Well, I know more than I’d like to know about it.

Badu: Well, then, don’t trouble yourself none, Homer. This ain’t your business.

Maguire: Right.

Badu: What am I gonna do with a baby? I can’t have a baby. What am I gonna do with a baby? Huh?

Maguire: Whatever you want to do, Rose, I can help. I just mean that if you don’t wanna keep the baby, I know a place where you can go.

Badu: You think Daddy’s gonna let me go anywhere? Huh? I ain’t goin’ nowhere. Why don’t you just, uh, go back to your pickin’, Homer. I can take care of it by myself, all right?

Maguire: What do you mean?

Badu: I mean I could take care of it by myself. Okay?

Maguire: Don’t do anything, Rose. Don’t do anything to yourself, okay? Rose? Do you hear me? Rose, do you hear me?

Badu: Go on!

[scene change:]

Charlize Theron: I think we should take her to St. Cloud’s and let her decide when she gets there.

Maguire: I told her. She doesn’t feel she can do that.

Theron: Well, we have to help her, right? We need to do something, don’t we? Homer?

[scene change:]

Theron: Hey.

Badu: Hey.

Theron: I have some more clothes for you. I just keep forgetting to bring them with me.

Badu: I don’t need no more clothes. Thanks.

Theron: I know what’s goin’ on, Rose. Homer told me. You don’t know this, but I got pregnant about a year ago. Do you want to have this baby? No? Who’s the father? Does he know? Rose, if you don’t want to have this baby, Homer and I will take you to a place. It’s safe. He knows this doc–

Badu: I can’t go nowhere.

Theron: Why?? Rose, listen to me. You can tell me.

Delroy Lindo: My daughter and I done told you. This ain’t your business. This ain’t none of your business. Ya even know what your business is, Homer? Do ya? C’mon now, what is your business?

Tobey Maguire: I’m in the doctor business. I can help. That’s all I’m saying. I can help.

[scene change:]

[Maguire prepares for Erykah Badu’s abortion:]

Maguire: Forceps. Cervical stabilizer, vulval pads. Set of sims. Set of reinstadards. Dakin’s solution.

Lindo: She my little girl, Homer.

Maguire: She’s gonna be all right, Mr. Rose. Nothin’ to worry about. You ready, Rose? Fellas–

one of the migrant workers: Come on, y’all.

Lindo: I’m staying, Homer.

Maguire: Okay. If you stay, you make yourself a use. Watch her breathing.

[scene changes, post-abortion:]

Theron: Hey. The heat will help the cramps ease up a little. The bleeding is usually a lot less within two days but you just keep checking the pad, okay? As long as it’s not heavy, it’s normal.


Year: 1999 (72nd) Academy Awards

Category: Writing (Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published)

Film Title: The Cider House Rules

Winner: John Irving

Presenter: Kevin Spacey

Date & Venue: March 26, 2000; Shrine Auditorium & Expo Center

Well, you must be trying to get me to reconsider my day job. I want to thank the Academy for this honor to a film on the abortion subject and Miramax for having the courage to make this movie in the first place. But especially my wife Janet, my children, Colin, Everett and Brendan — thank you, Brendan, for coming all this way. My best friend, David Colicchio*. The producer, Richard Gladstein. The director, Lasse Hallström, with whom I would work again in a second. And everyone at Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights League.

from an interview with writer John Irving at

The first time that I saw it — and I saw the film before I read the book — I thought, “My God, it’s an abortion movie.” I’d read about a doctor and an orphanage, but I wasn’t familiar with the abortion aspect. Is that something that you wish had played louder? The book was written in the ’80s during the really heavy abortion wars, which seem to have tapered off.

I disagree. I don’t think that they have tapered off. I think that the climate toward abortion is more volatile and divisive today. [When the book was published] a number of people — friends of mine, feminists — said to me, “It’s kind of quaint of you to write about this subject now that it’s resolved.”

I said, “You think it’s resolved?” It was, “Well, this book is good-hearted and it’s pro-choice, but we’ve fought that battle and it’s over now.” Roe vs. Wade was a scant 12 years old.

Well, look at what happened during the Senate debate of the partial-birth abortion business, when Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat, called for a non-binding vote among the Senate of who liked Roe vs. Wade and who would as soon be rid of it. And what was that vote? 61 or 59. It was ####ing close.

It wouldn’t have been that close in ’85. And here we’re going into yet another presidential election where the front-running Republican candidates are comfortable in their abortion policies. They are confidently anti-choice. I believe that the day a Republican is pro-choice, he’s going to win by a landslide. I could vote for a Republican for president, but I could never vote for a candidate who was not pro-choice.

One of the things you know about “My Movie Business” that I complained about most of all was that the biggest loss from the novel was not the characters that I had to lose and their story lines, but what I call the passage of time. I thought it was a tremendous burden to make this film happen in two-and-a-half years, as opposed to 15 years. Something of the epic nature was going to be lost. But there was something that we gained, that even as I was writing “My Movie Business” I wasn’t aware of. And that is that the emotional thing that when Homer comes back to the orphanage, the same unadopted kids are there.

And you’re getting two sides, one of which is a warm, uplifting story about him coming back, and the other, which is very sad and terrible that it’s the same kids.

It’s also very sad and terrible that this young man has given up his life in a sense. There was an earlier draft of the screenplay that was too dark. We decided to end the film the same, with the kids going to bed, feeling secure that Homer was back. I had a scene that was tacked on, it was what happened after that scene, when Homer goes down the hall to his office and sits down, and there are his companions for the rest of his life, the old nurses.

There was a sense of this is what this guy’s chosen. He’s made a considerable sacrifice. There was that sense that you’ve confined yourself to spend the rest of your life in your aunt’s house.

part of an article by Charlotte O’Sullivan at The Independent:

In 2000, Caine won an Oscar for his turn in The Cider House Rules – as a man who runs a very special orphanage, where women can either hand over their unwanted child, or have it vacuumed away. Eccentric, lovable Dr Larch (based on a character from John Irving’s bestselling novel) is positively zealous in converting those around him. At first young orphan Homer (Tobey Maguire) raises objections. But then he, too, sees the light, and decides to carry on Larch’s good work. Christian critics went into a tailspin – it was called an “exercise in neo-Nazi propaganda”. Nevertheless, audiences poured in. The film cost $24m to make and grossed more than $57m.

Paul Newman was the first choice for Larch, but he turned it down. “There are so many scenes at the incinerator,” he confided later. “That incinerator really gets to me.” Cider House Rules is a glossy product, but it still wasn’t sanitised enough for our Paul.

a snippet from a blog post at “Screenwriting from Iowa”:

Irving writes in My Movie Business, ”The Cider House Rules is a didactic novel. The nature of Dr. Larch’s (Michael Caine) argument with Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is polemical, and Larch wins the argument in the end…The Cider House Rules was not a love story, Phillip Borsos and I decided. It was a history of illegal abortion.”

He went through fifty drafts of the script to make sure his abortion rights vision was clear. He was clear enough that when Paul Newman read the script he turned down the roll of Dr. Larch and told Irving, “There are so many scenes at that incinerator (Where the aborted babies are burned). That incinerator really gets me.”

part of a review by John Prizer:

Homer Wells (Tobey McGuire) is Larch’s favorite, his “work of art.” The boy helps supervise the other kids and assists the doctor in his medical practice, which consists mainly of the delivery of unwanted children and abortions. The youth has become so expert at his duties that he’s encouraged to masquerade as a trained physician and treat patients on his own. But he refuses to perform abortions. […]

The orphanage board wants Larch to name his successor. But the doctor resists hiring anyone who’s properly qualified. He fears any sort of interference with his unorthodox operation, which includes abortions. He wants Homer to take his place and manufactures phony credentials to fool the board. The filmmakers treat this subterfuge with good humor, believing that the institution is a citadel of goodness which should be preserved by any means necessary.

Homer never attended school, receiving his education exclusively from Larch. He longs to discover the outside world, but his mentor warns that it’s too harsh.

The boy seizes his opportunity when an Air Force lieutenant, Wally Worthington (Paul Rudd), asks Larch to perform an abortion on his two-months’ pregnant girlfriend, Candy (Charlize Theron). Homer leaves with them to work as an apple-picker on the Worthington family farm run by Wally’s widowed mother.

All the other migrant workers are black, but Homer’s honesty and open-mindedness win them over. He bunks with them in the barn under the watchful eye of their strict foreman, who has an attractive daughter named Rose (Erykah Badyu). […]

Rose becomes pregnant and threatens to abort herself, using dangerous methods. The filmmakers present this situation as the most important moment in Homer’s moral journey. Will he intervene and perform an abortion on the young woman, utilizing the so-called safe procedures he learned from Larch? Or, will he allow her to attempt it on her own and risk her life?

The movie is constructed so that the audience will root for Homer to abort Rose’s unborn child. We’re meant to see this as the final step in his coming-of-age. The assumption is that he will grow up to be a moral man only if he agrees to become an abortionist. Furthermore, we’re supposed to hope he returns to the orphanage and makes these procedures a permanent part of his professional repertoire.


THE CIDER HOUSE RULES is offensive on so many levels. Its insidious manipulation of its audience with blatant symbolism and heart-tugging scenes, of orphans yearning for parents, of Homer picking shiny red apples in gorgeous mountain settings, of frantic young girls pleading with Dr. Larch for help, all in the name of abortion, is simply sickening. Even the movie’s title supports the pro-abortion theme. The “cider house rules” are a list of rules in the house where the migrant workers live and make cider. The workers burn the list, because “those rules weren’t written by the people who live here [in the cider house].” (Never mind that they were written by the people who own the cider house. Another vote for anarchy from the libertine left!) The analogy is obvious: since pregnant women (i.e., the keepers of the womb) were not the authors of abortion laws, the laws should be ignored and defied.

from MEGHAN COX GURDON at the Wall Street Journal Opinion section

Given what a towering source of anguish abortion has been for the country, both before and after Roe, it is surprising how seldom Hollywood has taken up the subject. Until this latest litter of flicks, the only prominent one was “The Cider House Rules” (1999), in which Michael Caine played an abortionist-as-hero. (Hollywood loved that one: two Academy Awards!) What is striking, but not surprising, about films that do tackle abortion is how the “products of conception” end up having no claim on the audience’s sympathy. They’re like so many extraneous scenes left on the cutting-room floor. Perhaps expending screen time on what–or who–might have been would clog the narrative, and anyway, what a drag.

Better to touch on the melancholy and physical suffering of the adults. Better yet to cast any such suffering in solipsistic terms that will be pleasantly painful for the audience while not forcing anyone to think too hard about what, exactly, was aborted.

from Audrey Fisch at

“Cider House” fails where “High Fidelity” rules.

“The Cider House Rules,” an earnest and strangely contrite morality movie about the horrors of illegal abortion, has received official designation as the pro-choice film of the year — if not of all time. And that’s OK, I guess. It certainly works hard to remind us about the agonies our society endured when abortion was a crime.

But it is not the courageous or radical film that critics and pro-choice advocates claim it to be. That particular distinction belongs to a movie that has been recognized as little more than a smart romantic comedy with an exceptionally great soundtrack. That movie, which conveys an almost revolutionary take on abortion, is “High Fidelity.”

It is not surprising that “High Fidelity,” directed by Stephen Frears and based on a 1995 British novel by Nick Hornby, has received almost no attention for its pro-choice politics. Its abortion plot line occupies about three minutes of film time.

Running down the list of things he did to cause his girlfriend to leave, Rob (the protagonist, played by John Cusack) tells us that, among other things, he slept with someone else while his girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), was pregnant. He quickly explains that he didn’t know Laura was pregnant, but Laura knew about his infidelity and, as a result, had an abortion without telling Rob about the pregnancy in the first place.

Rob learns of the abortion during a conversation with Laura about having children. She breaks down and tells him about the abortion. Mortified and full of guilt, Rob responds by chastising Laura for having had an abortion without consulting him. And then he does an amazing thing. He tells the movie audience — flatly and without melodrama — that his response was both spineless and insincere. It was not a valid complaint, he admits sheepishly, but just more evidence of his selfish unwillingness to take responsibility for cheating on Laura. And then he starts talking about something else.

That’s it.

The abortion incident becomes part of Rob and Laura’s history, another example of how they have hurt each other (mostly how he has hurt her). It is not an event that defines who they are or what shape their relationship will take. Laura is not a villain for having had an abortion. Rob is not a villain for using, in a moment of self-serving piousness, the anti-abortion language of “It’s my baby too.” They are just two people who experience the ups and downs of an intimate relationship, including the reproductive consequences of sex.

“High Fidelity,” in a context free of dogma and high drama, represents Laura’s abortion as a brief moment of crisis that does not doom her to eternal unhappiness. In fact, the film gives Laura and Rob a happy ending. That is radical. When has a movie ever suggested that a woman can have an abortion and move on with her life?

Certainly that is not the message of “The Cider House Rules,” which is based on the 1985 novel by John Irving (who also wrote the screenplay). The first woman we see having an abortion in that movie dies. She is a young, nameless white woman who suffers through a gruesome illegal abortion only to die before she can be helped by the “good” abortionist, Dr. Larch (Michael Caine). Maybe this woman, as a symbol of all the women who endured the horrors of illegal abortion, had to die. But her death is more than just a poignant reference point in the movie; it sets the tone for the whole saga. All the women who have abortions in “The Cider House Rules” are punished in one way or another.

Candy (Charlize Theron), the film’s heroine, undergoes an abortion that initially appears to have no significant consequences. She is reassured by Larch and the nurses that her abortion will not affect her ability to have beautiful children, and her recovery is swift and relatively painless. Her life goes on; her love life even thrives.

But when Candy’s boyfriend returns from the war paralyzed from the waist down, the film exposes its contradictory politics. (Did you wonder why the boyfriend couldn’t have been blinded or maimed?) His injury, contracted not honorably in battle but by contamination from disease-bearing mosquitoes, insures that Candy will have no children, beautiful or otherwise. Maybe now she and her boyfriend will experience the regret they never seemed to feel about the aborted fetus — in hindsight, their one chance to have a child.

Then, of course, there is Rose Rose (Erykah Badu), the young African-American woman whose pregnancy is the result of incest with her father. It is Rose’s pregnancy that finally convinces the film’s young protagonist, Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), that it’s OK to perform abortions. (Watching the young white woman die as the result of an illegal abortion somehow wasn’t convincing enough.)

Rose runs off after stabbing her father. We can only guess what will happen to her. Homer asserts that Rose will be OK, that she knows how to take care of herself, which would be convincing had the movie not turned on the fact that Rose could not take care of herself: She had been made pregnant by her father and would have been unable to secure an abortion had it not been for Homer’s help.

After tormenting all the women who have abortions, “The Cider House Rules” finally kills off the doctor who performs abortions.

Dr. Larch dies as the result of an ambiguous overdose of ether. His addiction is elliptically referenced in the film as the byproduct of his dedication — exhaustion has made it difficult for him to sleep. But the image of Larch’s ongoing nighttime battle with ether conjures two anti-abortion taunts: The abortionist cannot sleep at night or the abortionist cannot live with himself. In either case, the film’s treatment of Larch hardly works as an endorsement of his good works.

Young Homer does return to the orphanage to continue to perform abortions, but this move does not dispel the pall cast by this film. Abortion seems to make everyone in this movie miserable, except perhaps the quirky and happy orphans who exist, it would seem, to illustrate yet another tenet of the anti-abortion agenda: If it weren’t for the difficulty of securing an illegal abortion, these orphanage kids wouldn’t exist at all. “Don’t abort us!” these kids seem to shriek out to the audience. “We’re too cute to die!” Hence the orphan Homer’s ambivalence about the morality of abortion.

Admittedly, it is odd to want to celebrate “High Fidelity” for its three-minute act of creative courage, especially when we are expected to praise the more sober and eminently rational “The Cider House Rules.” But whatever else “The Cider House Rules” may do, it doesn’t deviate from the basic script that says women who exercise the right to choose are inexorably stained and deserving of punishment.

“High Fidelity,” with its brief depiction of Laura’s abortion as distressing but surmountable, actually delivers the more radical message that abortion doesn’t have to be the stuff of tragic melodrama. It can be, and often is, simply one compelling anecdote in the overall narrative of life.

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One Response to The Cider House Rules

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