Cider House Rules, The

Stars:  Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine, Charlize Theron

“The Cider House Rules” is a stunningly poignant tale of one young man’s journey and discovery of life and love.

Written by John Irving and based upon his own best-selling novel, this is the story of Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), who grows up in a Maine orphanage and is mentored by its elderly doctor Wilbur Larch (the remarkable Michael Caine). In addition to caring for the younger children at the orphanage, Homer is taught everything about medicine, including advanced obstetrical skills so that he can help Doctor Larch cope with the many women who come to St. Clouds to give up their babies for adoption. What Homer won’t do, however, is help Larch perform abortions, not because they were declared illegal back in 1943, the setting of this film, but because he believes they are inherently wrong. Larch, on the other hand, sees the torment that young women suffer when they are denied medical services and try to end their pregnancies by themselves; he doesn’t give up in trying to convince Homer that abortions save women’s lives.

One day, Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron of the remade “Mighty Joe Young”) and her Air Force Lieutenant boyfriend Wally Worthington (Paul Rudd of “The Object of My Affection) show up at the orphanage to end her pregnancy. Tales of Wally’s flying experiences set the weary Homer thinking about all that he’s missing in life and there begins Homer’s long journey into the light and away from the orphanage for the first time in his life.

It’s a sad day for Dr. Larch, nurses Angela and Edna (Kathy Baker and Jane Alexander), but not one that’s unexpected.

With its wintry Maine setting and the time in which it is set, the film sets a tone right from the start, one that suggests calmness and yet an undercurrent of tension. The calmness comes from the competent characters of Larch, the nurses and Homer who hold everyone together and the tension from all the kids desperate to be adopted, the games they play to appear happy when one of their kin goes away, the pregnant and frightened women who pass through their doors for medical procedures, and, of course, in the background, is the war. Life and death intermingles very closely here.

Michael Caine, with his New England accent, is absolutely wonderful to watch. Larch is no ordinary doctor; he’s ahead of his time and works tirelessly to fill the needs of all of his patients and loves the children of the orphanage as if they were his own, particularly Homer whom he thinks of as his most precious son. Tobey Maguire is sweet as the young man who desires more in life, yet because of his experience in the orphanage, has learned that he cannot expect too much.

It is off in the “real” world, that Homer discovers the joys of love and being an orchardman picking apples at Wally’s mother’s farm and living with the migrant workers down at the Cider House; thus comes the title of this film. It is here also that Homer learns the dual nature of people: where good and evil is a constant tug-of-war and he comes to understand the one thing that Dr. Larch had trouble teaching him: that pregnancy to some women is not a blessing.

The story moves along well; the dialogue is glistening and the characters are extremely well developed making this a beautiful yet understated film. It does not have to force itself upon us; we simply fall under its spell.

Also featuring Kieran Culkin (“The Mighty”), Delroy Lindo (“Clockers”), Kate Nelligan.

Lotta says this is a very well done intelligent film. Thank you, John Irving and director Lasse Hallstom.