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By Ted Baldwin

The Cider House Rules
Reviewed:
3/9/2000


This is full of spoilers, so read only if you want to know everything beforehand.
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FIVE POSSIBLE
If the above picture is upsetting to you, remember, it is just a picture. If you feel like you are being manipulated, it is not true. If making you think is manipulating you, I apologize.
     The Cider House Rules is a patent little story about coming-of-life in wartime Maine, how the young Homer Wells grows up, leaves his orphanage home, realizes his true calling as an abortionist, and goes home again, presumably to ply his trade. I am being a little crude, perhaps, but the essence of this beautifully acted and photographed film is just that. A young man indifferently defies authority by sort of refusing to commit abortions, leaves, and finds himself in a predicament that calls exactly for his skills as taught him by an ether-addicted, conniving Harvard-trained well-meaning Doctor-with-a-Messiah-Complex-as-only-Michael-Caine-could-play-it who interferes with the life of his protege to the extent of crippling him for any other purpose.

     It is the major flaw in this film, and character, that Homer Wells does not stand by his principles, or really have any. He is just sort of around to affirm that giving illegal abortions is really OK, cause the girls really want them. However, unjustified reproductive rights on demand (abortion) is a darling subject of the Left, and darn well why CHR has been picked up, embraced, and given a best picture nod.

     Homer, finely drawn by Tobey Maguire, is set upon from all sides to learn to illegally perform medical procedures. He has no real passion about it - it is more or less just distasteful to him. He dislikes having to incinerate the aborted fetuses, and pauses more than once before tossing them in.

(Author's note: I personally oppose abortion, but at the same time, believe a woman should have the right to choose up until the point the fetus is able to survive outside the womb. From then on, I consider it a go. And I really only think abortions should be performed in the case of rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake. But I am not a woman, just somebody that can think for himself. Someone glad to be alive, and despite our differences, glad you are alive.)

     It is just so tiresome, having to redefine and defend values on a day to day basis, to look at something that feels as good as this film does and realize, then have to say "there is something wrong". What is wrong thematically is that there is basically no accountability - and in the film there is no conflict between authority and the actions of the characters. The law is continually mentioned, but no lawmen ever show up to challenge the abortionists - to really test their convictions. The only real conflict is over whether or not Homer will do what the Doc wants. A gruff old guy at the Cider House looks threatening, but never, never once does that character come into play in the story. He is just another signpost saying danger is about, but you don't have to worry about it. I get the feeling that something was left out of the story.

     Authority is evaded, ignored, manipulated, but never given a chance to state its position, never allowed a voice - because there really is no defense for the illegal actions of the characters. So they have to slink around. Not very affirming.

     On top of it, this has a European sense of "whatever you do is OK" about it. (Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who did "My Life as a Dog"). I have a more complex sense of morality than that, and enough wisdom to know that there are things in the world that eat away at the soul. To pretend you can do all things with impunity is the height of folly. There comes an accountability for actions -as all thinking people experience (and no, not in the next world before God). Just to look at ourselves in the mirror, we have to be able to look back and know we did the right thing. Mere humans cannot bear the weight of a life of wrong-headedness - the pain and sense of shame is overwhelming.

     And there are the usual justifications in this film, one less mouth to feed in a rotten world, one less destroyed mom, one more saved young person now free to pursue her own destiny fetus-free. And the arguments against abortion are given short shrift, better to be alive - uh. oh. I almost killed us in a car wreck...etc, so maybe it is better NOT to be alive with all the danger out there not that a Doctor's forceps are dangerous...

     Believe me, it is better to be alive. Because there is at least a little hope for a better life.

     How pathetic the cries for "abortion on demand so we can all have a little bit better quality of life". More accurately, "Kill the child before it suffers, 'cause I can't stand its suffering". Selfish is the only word I can muster, and it is woefully inadequate. Life for another to me is more precious than my so-called "quality" of life. The movements to save trees, owls, dolphins and other "natural" elements of Mother Nature should be behind preservation of human life more than anything else. But the truth is? They hate humanity. They loathe the presence of 6 billion souls on ground they worship, literally. We're just workhorses for the camps.

     Back to the Cider House.

     So when the perfect abortee arrives on screen, a young, black, poor, rosey incest-related pregnant girl threatening to "take care a it herself" (whereupon we realize we have already seen the folly of botched abortionism - peritonitis, agony, death) there is little for the hero to do except open up the medical bag the doctor sent him as a "COME HOME" gift, wash up and plow ahead. His calling as a doctor is not in evidence when he has an opportunity to do a few stitches - why do the "procedure"? It is all very convenient, very pat and a little sick.

     It is very trendy and exciting in modern film and literature to embrace the freedom to do anything we want, and portray it as consequence free. "American Beauty" is about that, despite the ending. But look at the enduring themes of literature, the stories and personages handed down through the centuries and millennia. The resounding tales of heroism and "do-gooders" are the ones that have survived - and it is not a plot to oppress the freedom of "out-of-the-box" thinkers. It is because those stories serve the survival of the species, the survival of our society, and the survival of our humanity. The reason the top grossing films of all time are certain adventure stories, Star Wars and the like, is because those stories have heroes doing good, righting wrongs, and saving Princesses. And we need those ideals to make it through the day, to remember we are more than just bags of seawater with nice cars.

     The finale of CHR is when Homer, returning the x-ray of his damaged heart to the files upon his return to the orphanage, is informed that the x-ray is not his, but that of a once-sick now-dead little boy named Fuzzy. You see, the Doctor did not want Homer to have to go off to war and maybe die, so he rigged the medical files. This is all played with no sense of outrage or anger - gee, it's just cute that the old guy didn't want him to have to go to war. What a relief!

     Homer Wells is trapped, forced into a life he does not even know if he does not want, because he was robbed of that opportunity by an ultimately grasping, selfish, and fearful man, in the name of love.

     Here is a "cute" little exercise, that will show the hypocrisy of the situation. Instead of a man in the role of Homer Wells, imagine a female in the role. An older man deprives her of the right to serve in the army by forging medical documents showing she is infirm, without her knowledge. She is taught to live her life without exertion because of a supposedly defective heart. She is pressured to stay at the orphanage and do what the doctor wants, namely performing abortions. She is not encouraged to develop her own relationships, and is belittled for seeking her own destiny. She is not allowed to even go to high school, and instead is granted a forged degree in medicine so she will be trapped at the orphanage forever, with no other skills. Would the Left stand still for this treatment of a woman for even ten seconds? Let alone embrace it?

     But still, it is a fine picture, with an interesting set of characters. It needs heroism, but despite the politics and failings of the story, it really has as much love at its heart as American Beauty has hatred. And the characters in this do not go psycho on us - they sort of mill around a lot in interesting ways. Like people you could know.

     Cider House Rules may win best picture, but I think it is subtly, fatally flawed, and its values will never strike a resounding chord with mainstream America.
     Author's note: As far as my personal experience with abortion is concerned, some of my friends have had them, and they have regretted it. But I still support their right to have them. In a perfect world, there never would be an unwanted pregnancy, abortion or miscarriage, but pregnancies are often terminated naturally. This gets me back to the idea of viability of the fetus. At the point it can survive on its own (without umbilical support), so be it.
The website text calls this a story about "finding out how far you have to go to find out where you really belong". Sigh. That finding out part is never developed in the story, but small matter. It's a million times better than "Pushing TIn". lol. The official website is pretty good, with lots of pictures and behind the scene information.
Amusing, isn't it?

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