The Cider House Rules

Cider House Rules movie still

Director: Lasse Halström
Screenwriter: John Irving
Starring: Michael Caine, Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd
Release details: Miramax, USA 1999, 111mins
Full details: IMDb / Trailer
Genre: Drama
Rating: 9 out of 10

Michael Caine won his second Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dr Wilbur Larch in this coming-of-age tale set in 1940s Maine, New England, and only the most churlish would suggest that he didn't deserve it. He was, let me remind you, nominated against Jude Law for a start, and anyone who's familiar with Jude's work will know he's a self-obsessed, talentless, ratched-jawed little... whatever.

But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves serious movies. And, within reason, it likes to show that its liberal values are better than Joe Public's conservative redneck ones (except when it comes to the USA - the Oscar ceremony is remarkably jingoistic - just ask Michael Moore). So, it loves this sort of complex moral drama. Especially if it has an uplifting ending.

Dr Wilbur Larch is the head of a small rural orphanage which also offers a side-line in illegal abortions as a way of supplementing the meagre amounts of money they receive from their benefactors. His blue-eyed boy, whom he is training to become his heir is Homer Wells (Maguire), an earnest young man with a heart complaint who longs to see the world beyond the orphanage.

Homer does not approve of abortion, except for rape and incest, but this stance does feel at odds with his otherwise open-minded view of the world. In fact, Homer is pretty much an open book when it comes to changing his mind.

Into this world come Wally (Rudd) and Candy (Theron), a young couple with an unwanted pregnancy. Homer is immediately attracted to their glamour and big city ways and so runs away from the orphanage to work on Wally's family orchard, bunking in with the other migrant workers in the cider house of the title, where he learns about life, love and the ugliness of human nature.

Homer hardly bats an eyelid that Candy has had an abortion that was not motivated by rape or incest. But then, she's cuter than most of the other girls he's seen and, let's face it, he's willing to run the same risk as Wally by having a fairly lusty romance with her while Wally's away fighting in WWII.

Despite Homer and Candy's affair, this is not a love story and it's the relationship between Homer and Wilbur which provides the moral centre of the film, even though they spend almost two-thirds of their time apart. Homer's time in the cider house leads him to appreciate that his surrogate father, against whom he was so keen to rebel, has taught him more about life than he has realised.

Their relationship is in stark contrast to the dark undercurrents between Mr Rose (Lindo) and his teenage daughter, Rose Rose (Erykah Badu), who later proves to be the catalyst to Homer finally assuming his responsibilities as the true successor to Dr Larch.

Irving's Oscar-winning script treats the audience with respect and leaves many of the complex moral issues raised only partially resolved, rather than giving into the film and TV convention of leaving no loose ends. Undoubtedly, this may put off some viewers who prefer the film to take a definite position on all matters, particularly the Roses' situation.

Cider House Rules is also one of most evocatively shot and visually luxurious films of recent years. From the early morning mist to the dankness of the cider house, the cinematography envelops you and draws you further into what is already a very moving film.

Not many films these days treat the viewer as if they're intelligent enough to cope with anything more complex than a fart joke, so Cider House Rules should be appreciated for both its ambition and its sensitivity. But, at the end of the day, if you like it, you'll really like it, and if you don't, you'll probably rate it lower than the Island.

The stats

UK release date 17 March 2000
US release date 1 January 2000
UK box office £1,257,478
US box office $57,545,092
UK certificate 12
US MPAA rating PG-13

Sources: IMDb, Box Office Mojo, BFI, BBFC, MPAA

External Reviews

Roger Ebert: The story touches many themes, lingers with some of them, moves on and arrives at nowhere in particular... [read more]

Reel Views: In a little over two hours, with a strong cast, an accomplished cinematographer, and a well-tuned script, Hallström has fashioned a motion picture of visual splendor and emotional depth... [read more]


There were many demonstrations against this film in the US Bible Belt because of its strong pro-abortion stance. John Irving dedicated his best original screenplay Oscar® to everyone involved in the pro-choice movement.


There's more than a few Tobey Maguire sites, but Tobey Online is probably the best - it's certainly the most comprehensive (although it does have really, really slow loading times, even with broadband).

Charlize Theron has her own (heavily Flash-based) official site. There are far too many fan pages for me to be bothered to go through them all. Thankfully, someone has thoughtfully pulled them all together at the Theron Guide (it has really annoying pop-ups and pop-unders, though - not that this would be a problem if you would just shift to using Mozilla, with its inbuilt pop-up blocker).

Here at CitizenCaine, we love Paul Rudd and wish he could have won season 1 of Celebrity Poker Showdown. Find out more about the guy you probably recognise as Pheobe's boyfriend from Friends at Paul Rudd Online.