The Academy-Award winning film The Cider House Rules is a tale of a young man's journey in self-actualization hung against the backdrop of the ever-contemporary issues surrounding individual freedoms and rights. Specifically speaking, viewers encounter a critically-recognized debate concerning reproductive freedom, namely, the legality of abortion.
Homer Wells (Tobey Macquire) was born in St. Cloud's Orphanage in an extremely rural area of Maine. Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), the beloved director of the orphanage, displays an immediate fondness for this child and nurtures a non-biological father-son bond with Homer. Dr. Larch instructs Homer in the field of gynecological medicine, even if Homer doesn't necessarily want to learn. Although his knowledge is substantial and his technique is nearly impeccable, Homer resists performing extreme doctoral duties because he is practicing without a license. Among these duties are safe (though illegal) abortions, provided by Larch under the rationale that he would rather provide an illegal abortion to a woman to preserve her health instead of the alternative coat-hanger "doctors" who frequented back alleys in the 1930s and 1940s. Larch's viewpoints are akin to the rationale that underlies the landmark decision to legalize abortion in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade.
Despite all the favorable aspects of Homer's life at St. Cloud's, he yearns to see the world outside of the orphanage. After Wally Worthington (Paul Rudd) brings his pregnant girlfriend Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron) to Larch for an abortion, he decides to hitch a ride with them back to Wally's family farm and pick apples with the farmstaff, headed by Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo). The Cider House in which they reside has a list of several rules posted, and since Homer is literate, the rest of the staff (especially Mr. Rose's daughter, Rose Rose, played by Erykah Badu) wants to know what the rules are. Mr. Rose believes these rules are unnecessary and instructs Homer to stop reading them, reinforcing the guise of dictator on the part of Mr. Rose and impressing the theme of charting one's own destiny on the audience. This theme ties in nicely with the principles that justify Roe v. Wade and, in doing so, has sparked a thoroughly controversial debate about the filmmaker's thematical intentions throughout the production of the film. In other words, writer John Irving is questioned in his inclusion of a controversial subject such as abortion sprinkled throughout a tale about self-actualization, especially considering that this actualization includes the right to make or break rules as one sees fit.
In the meantime, Wally goes off to war and Homer decides he loves his new life and, consequently, falls in love with Candy. Questions loom about how to handle the love between the two of them, if and when to go back to St. Cloud's, and whether or not to use his medical knowledge when confronted with Rose's incestual pregnancy by Mr. Rose. Eventually, Homer recognizes that his calling is in St. Cloud's (especially after he learns of Dr. Larch's unexpected death) and returns there, welcomed by the open arms and loving hearts of those who thought they had been left behind. While the tale is heartwarming, pro-life advocates believe it consciously and shamelessly promotes abortion. On the other hand, pro-choice advocates acclaim the film and celebrate its focus on the freedom to make decisions on one's own behalf.
Copyright (c) 2003 Kate A. Schartel, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.
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