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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Cider House Rules

One of the best films of 1999

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 28, 2000 -- I finally got to see "The Cider House Rules," and it was worth the wait, and the 130-mile round-trip drive to see it. It is one of the best films of 1999. It is a film beautifully crafted by director Lasse Hallström ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape") and richly photographed by Oliver Stapleton.

It is a rich, warmly humanistic, compelling story about the growth of a boy into a man, how he faces moral dilemmas and finally finds his place in the world. The plot is perhaps best summarized by my favorite quote from T.S. Eliot:

"We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time"

Homer Wells (perfectly played by Tobey Maguire of "Pleasantville") is a young man who grows up in an orphanage, after being rejected twice by prospective parents. The kindly doctor in charge of the place, again, perfectly played by Michael Caine (who, as one pundit said, has been in every film since "Birth of a Nation," but in this case let's just say his last memorable role was in "Little Voice") teaches him how to be a doctor.

The young boy, very bright, turns out to be a gifted surgeon and he lightens the load for the aging doctor. Now this orphanage seems too good to be true. The children are loved and cared for to the utmost ability of the staff. Homer has a severe disagreement with the good doctor on the subject of abortions, however. The doctor performs them and Homer doesn't think this is morally right. He says adults ought to be responsible for the lives they bring into this world.

When a handsome young couple comes by for an abortion, he decides to leave with them and go exploring. The young man Wally (Paul Rudd of "Clueless") goes off to war, and Homer goes to work in Wally's family's apple business. He also makes friends with Wally's girlfriend, the lovely Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron of "Reindeer Games"). He soon finds that what he thought was a firm moral compass is spinning wildly.

Homer also makes friends with the migrant farm workers who come to pick the apples each year and to run the cider press. The boss of the group is Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo of "Ransom"), who along with his daughter, Rose (Erykah Badu), and most of the rest of the pickers make up a good working team, until conflict happens and an ugly secret is exposed.

Until that time, Homer drifts along happily in what seems to be an idyllic life in the orchards and on the lobster boats of Maine until he realizes he has to decide what to do. He has to decide, as Mr. Rose says, "what his business is" in this life. Events transpire which force Homer to choose his business, and he chooses gracefully and wisely.

This story is about tough moral choices. It makes the argument that everyone has to make up their own rules to life as they go along. No one can make them for you. There is no list of rules you can follow. This, of course, smacks of moral relativism, the argument that there is, in fact, no right and wrong at all. Everything is relative. I would argue that there are moral rules that people can follow, rules outlined in the great religions of the world. You can't just murder people, for instance, because it is convenient to do so, otherwise there is no such thing as morality.

I don't think John Irving is arguing the case for true moral relativity, however, not based on this screenplay (based on his novel) or his last screenplay, "Simon Birch." I think what he's saying is that moral choices are often difficult and not as clear-cut as some would have us believe. Even given the code of morality in the Bible, the Koran and elsewhere, there often are no easy answers. These codes give us a guideline, but they don't give us a simple answer for every situation. I think that's what the movie is saying. However, many people may take from this movie the message that morality is relative, that they can throw out the rules and that just about any form of behavior can be justified. That would be too bad. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]