"The Cider House Rules"
a film review by Linda Lopez McAlister
On "The Women's Show"
WMNF-FM 88.5 Tampa, Florida
Saturday, January 29, 2000

At first I wondered if this film, "The Cider House Rules" falls under the rubric for this segment of the show: Women and Film. After all, it was directed by a man Lasse Halstrom, written by a man, John Irving, and its two main characters are men. But friends assured me that I did want to review it, so last night I went to see it. How right they were. It is a beautifully crafted film with a fine cast of actors (Toby McGuire as Homer Wells, Michael Caine as Dr. Larch, Cherlize Theron as Candy Kendall) and an excellent supporting cast that includes Jane Alexander, Kate Nelligan, Delroy Lindo, and others. But more important from a feminist perspective is the fact that the film exemplifies a feminist ethic more clearly than any other film I can think of.

Dr. Larch is a physician at an orphanage and home for unwed mothers in rural Maine during WWII. He and two nurses care for the children, arrange adoptions, deliver babies, and perform abortions if the woman wants one. He is assisted by young Homer Wells, an orphan who was twice adopted and twice returned. By the time Homer is grown, Dr. Larch has trained him carefully and he knows his craft as well as any obstetrician or gynecological surgeon who has graduated from medical school, despite the fact that he lacks even a high school diploma. Wells can do anything Dr. Larch can do, but he draws the line at performing abortions. Dr. Larch, on the other hand, is clear that he needs to give the women who come to him the whole range of options and he believes it is his role to assist them with whatever choice they make.

One day a pilot in the US Army Air Corps comes with his fianc˙e to have an unwanted fetus aborted and Homer hitches a ride from them when they leave. He has never been anywhere but St. Clouds, Maine and he wants to see the world. They take him to coastal Maine where he sees the ocean for the first time and joins a migrant worker crew picking apples in the pilot's mother's apple farm. What happens to him while there changes his life profoundly and his understanding of what his role in life needs to be.

He sees that slavishly following some abstract principle without taking into consideration the specific circumstances in each situation is senseless and can lead to much pain and suffering. It's just as senseless as expecting the apple pickers to follow the set of rules tacked up on the wall of the cider house where they bunk. First of all, except for Homer, none of them can read the rules. Secondly, it's clear that the rules were not made by the people who are meant to abide by them, people who live in the cider house, but by some others who have no idea what it's like to live there.

By the end of "The Cider House Rules" Homer has learned the wisdom of Dr. Larch's view that everyone, including women, has to make their own moral choices and that his role is to help others achieve what they want to achieve without passing judgment on them. And that's surely a feminist ethic if I ever heard one.

For the WMNF Women's Show this is Linda Lopez McAlister on Women and Film.

Copyright 2000 by Linda Lopez McAlister. All rights reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce this review without permission of the author: mcalister@chuma1.cas.usf.edu.