“The Cider House Rules”: Making One’s Own Way

Well, someone who don’t live here made those rules. Those rules ain’t for us. We are supposed to make our own rules. And we do. Every single day. The Cider House Rules

Film critic Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle, called the award-winning and poignant 1999 film The Cider House Rules, which was adapted from John Irving‘s novel and directed by Lasse Holstrom, not only “Dickensian” but also “one dickens of an American movie.”

Quite pertinent to Minding Therapy, moreover, and adding to the above, was the review of Stephen Holden, The New York Times:

It doesn’t take a cryptographer to decipher the meanings in John Irving’s sprawling picaresque allegories. But a reader who wants to savor them must be willing to suspend a psychoanalytic view of human nature descended from Freud through Oprah and surrender to an imagination that is more Dickensian than Freudian. Once you give up those expectations, a visit to the world according to Irving is a little like touring a parallel universe where fate is determined not so much by abusive parents as by wondrous tragicomic events beyond the realm of psychology.

THE PLOT

Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine) runs an orphanage, St. Clouds. Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle:

Wintry St. Clouds has several kinds of clients. A few are prospective adopters who come to inspect the children — ‘I’m the best of all the kids,’ one of them declares — and occasionally leave with one. Many others come to have their babies and leave them behind, and some expectant parents come for illegal abortions. Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is an orphan who never found a family but grew to adulthood at St. Clouds and stayed. He now assists Larch. He knows how to deliver babies but is not a doctor. One thing he won’t assist Larch in, however, is performing abortions.

Continuing on the movie’s theme of family, James Berardinelli, ReelViews:

Dr. Larch is the ultimate father (despite his assertion that he is the ‘caregiver to many [and] father to none’), and the orphans are the ultimate children…

Relationships in The Cider House Rules are complex, and the movie never condescends to or judges its characters. Larch and Homer are more like father and son than mentor and pupil. The boys and girls at the orphanage have forged a strong bond as a result of the shared experiences of loneliness and dejection – each time a family comes to adopt, all but one of them will be disappointed…In fact, there’s more of a sense of family here than exists in many traditional households. And there’s a tremendous feeling of mixed poignancy and affection every evening when Dr. Larch repeats this refrain to his boys: ‘Good night you Princes of Maine, you Kings of New England.’

The following scene epitomizes the heartbreak of everyday decision-making at St. Cloud’s:

After a particular couple (Paul Rudd, Charlize Theron) receives abortion services at St. Clouds, Homer decides to leave with them to “see the world.” He spends years away from there, partly working alongside African American migrants at an apple orchard—the scene of the “Cider House Rules” that aren’t necessarily heeded—and off-season being a lobsterman.

While Rudd’s character is away serving his country, Homer and Theron’s character, Candy, fall in love

Other important parts of the story include an incestuous relationship perpetrated by the orchard’s crew boss and Homer’s eventual return to the orphanage.

THE TRAILER

MAIN THEMES AND PERFORMANCES, IN BRIEF

James Beradinelli, ReelViews: “The impetus behind The Cider House Rules is Homer’s search to find himself. During his time at St. Clouds, the course of his life has been mapped by the expectations of others. He is a big brother to the other orphans and a helper to Dr. Larch, but, trapped within such an insular community, he has never had the opportunity to unlock the real Homer Wells.”

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “The need to be of use, the discovery that the official rules and real-life rules of how to behave rarely coincide — these and other life lessons that our innocent hero learns may sound like the tritest of homilies. But ‘The Cider House Rules’ gives them the depth and emotional weight of earned wisdom.”

Lisa Schwarzbaum, ew.com: “…Dr. Larch suits Caine, who, establishing the unorthodox rituals of a doctor committed to his own ethical rules (he huffs ether to tune out the world’s misery), locates the sadness and stubbornness behind the abortionist/child saver’s fervor.”

IN CONCLUSION

An opinion articulated by Stephen Holden, New York Timesabout The Cider House Rules resonates deeply with this viewer (who’s seen it several times):

…(I)t is a sustained meditation on the dream of home sweet home that gnaws at the heart of its orphaned main character Homer…as well as the hearts of the other children who grow up in St. Cloud’s…

…(G)rowing up means coming to the realization that in a cosmic sense we are all orphans.

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