Film Review: The Cider House Rules

By RENEE SUMMERS, A&E Editor

This week we’re going to peek into the video vault and take a look back to 1999. The Cider House Rules was released in December of that year and the following spring, veteran actor Michael Caine took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his fine work in the film. The Cider House Rules was also nominated that year for Best Picture, but lost the honor to the film American Beauty.  

The film opens in the small country village of St. Cloud, Maine in 1943. Caine, who plays Dr. Wilbur Larch, operator of the local orphanage, narrates the opening of the film and brings the viewer up to date on the story about to be revealed. He tells of a young charge who grew up in the orphanage following two failed adoptions. The orphan is Homer Wells, played by Tobey Maguire (Spider Man, The Great Gatsby.)  It appears that Homer is the eldest of the children who occupy the orphanage and it is apparent that he is also Dr. Larch’s favorite. In addition to the regular education provided at the orphanage, Dr. Larch passes on to Homer all his medical knowledge, in the hope that Homer will one day be taking over as director of the children’s home. But Homer has dreams of a life of his own somewhere else,  anywhere else.

Perhaps because he has seen too many unwanted children without families, Dr. Larch also provides abortion services in a time when performing them was illegal. While he acts as medical assistant to Dr. Larch on other procedures, performing abortions is the one thing Homer finds repugnant. Dr. Larch argues that he is performing a valuable service. Because he does not wish to be Dr. Larch’s replacement, caring for a home full of orphans and performing abortions, Homer befriends a young, unmarried couple who come seeking Dr. Larch’s assistance with an untimely pregnancy. Homer leaves with Lt. Wally Worthington, played by Paul Rudd and Candy Kendall, played by Charlize Theron, with dreams of finding life.

He finds work on Wally Worthington’s family’s apple orchard and cider mill. It is here that Homer befriends a host of seasonal harvest workers who travel up and down the East Coast. He eventually falls for Candy after Wally is shipped overseas as World War II rages.

The story is intricate but never dull or confusing. Screenwriter John Irving based the film on his novel of the same name and captured the film’s second Academy Award for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay. The life Homer carves out for himself at the orchard and the relationships he forges are pure gold. The film is poignant, relating the age-old tale of a young person seeking escape. The fact that it has grossed more than $57 million further illustrates the quality of both the story and the film itself.