Political Film Society - Newsletter #66 - February 15, 2000

February 15, 2000


The fate of unwanted children is usually left out of debates on abortion. Not so in The Cider House Rules, directed by Lasse Hallström. The film takes place in the 1940s, beginning at an orphanage in St. Clouds, Maine, where illegitimate children live until infertile couples arrive to find the nicest ones to adopt (though in some cases the children return when the adoptive parents engage in child abuse). The unmarried women who come to the orphanage, however, do not always donate a baby but instead seek, quite illegally, an abortion. Dr. Wilbur Larch (played by Michael Caine) and his able assistant Homer Wells (played by Tobey McGuire) assist the women with the medical procedures after they have decided whether to give birth or have an abortion. Early in the film we learn of an abortion by an unqualified person, which seriously damages a woman's uterus, and we view Dr. Larch healing a woman who was butchered in such a manner. Based on the novel by John Irving, who wrote the screenplay and personally selected some of the actors, the film traces the life of Homer Wells. Although Homer is twice adopted but returned to St. Clouds, he seems content with the family of children to whom he can be a big brother. Dr. Larch takes Homer under his wing as his medical assistant; indeed, he becomes a fully qualified physician albeit lacking in formal education. When Homer is called up for the draft, Dr. Larch reveals his dependence on Homer by falsifying his medical record to show a heart condition. One day Candy Kendall (played by Charlize Theron) and her boyfriend Wally Worthington (played by Paul Rudd), who is on home leave from the Air Corps, arrive at St. Clouds so that she can have an abortion, presumably because Candy fears that Wally might die in the war. Suspecting that he will be Dr. Larch's successor some day, Homer realizes that he may never experience the rest of the world throughout the remainder of his life. When Candy and Wally are about to depart, Homer hitches a ride with them. Luckily, Candy's father offers him a job as an applepicker at the Kendall's apple farm, and Homer lives in a shack along with African American migrant workers under the direction of Mr. Rose (played by Delrouy Lindo).

Inside the shack a paper posted on the wall announces a set of silly rules that infuriate the workers, informing them that they are perceived as idiots. When apple season ends, Homer assists in lobster farming. Since Candy enjoys male companionship, she gradually seduces Homer. When the second applepicking season begins, Homer becomes aware that one of the African Americans, Rose Rose (played by Erykah Badu) is pregnant; when Candy finds out that Mr. Rose is the father, she recommends an abortion, but Rose is fearful of going to a strange place. Homer then saves the day by performing the abortion in the shack with medical instruments sent by Dr. Larch as a hint that he misses Homer at the orphanage. All along, Homer and Dr. Larch have been exchanging letters, hoping for Homer's return. On one occasion Dr. Larch becomes so depressed without his youthful coworker by his side that he fabricates documents claiming that Homer has various medical degrees in the hope that the board controlling the orphanage will agree to hire Homer as a replacement for the aging Dr. Larch at the facility. In a hilarious scene, Dr. Larch badmouths Homer's credentials before the board, knowing that they will want him all the more. Eventually, despairing that Homer has left the orphanage for good, Dr. Larch commits suicide. However, Wally soon returns from war as a paraplegic. Candy decides to devote herself to Wally, and thus bids adieu to Homer, who then returns to the orphanage and takes up an appointment as the new physician. At nightfall, he quotes to the family of male orphans the phrase Dr. Larch intoned after reading a chapter from a book: "Good night you Princes of Maine, you Kings of New England." Unfortunately, due to a publicity blackout about the serious political message in the film, The Cider House Rules was not nominated for a Political Film Society award for 1999. MH

The Board of Directors of the Political Film Society will meet at 7 p.m. on March 4 at 8481 Allenwood Road, Los Angeles, to count final ballots to determine the best political films of 1999. All members of the Society are invited. Refreshments will be served.