Inside The Cider House

CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard reviews The Cider House Rules, a new film based on the 1985 novel by author John Irving.
The last novel I ever wrote, a couple of decades ago, was all about a New England apple orchard and the migrants who picked the fruit. Whatever this bookÂ's faults, and they were many, I thought it was among your better apple-picking novels.

Then, in 1985, John Irving published The Cider House Rules, and I knew I had to find another line of work. Cider House Rules was not only the Great American Apple-Picking, Birth Control, Orphans and Abortion Novel, but also a splendid riff on 19th century English literature.

In its leisurely abundance, it seemed to wonder what might happen if David Copperfield hit the road with Jane Eyre. Now it has been adapted for the big screen by Irving himself, who chops out half. While Charles Dickens remains, Charlotte Bronte has been tossed overboard. I am respectful, but bereft.

In the paper mill town of St. CloudÂ's, Me., during the Great Depression and the second world war, Michael CaineÂ's Dr. Larch delivers babies and performs abortions, whichever the woman chooses.

He also runs an orphanage for the children left behind. His favorite orphan, whom he raises as a son and trains as a successor, is Homer Wells, played by Tobey Maguire as if he were one of the alien teens on Roswell. Until Homer meets Candy.

Most boys would leave most towns for Charlize Theron. And so Homer leaves St. CloudÂ's to see the ocean, pick apples, eat lobsters, go to a drive-in movie and find his manhood.

Among migrant pickers in the cider house, including recording artist Erykah Badu as Rose and a superb Delroy Lindo as her too-possessive father, Homer also finds his role and his responsibility, to become, like David Copperfield, the hero of his own life. Meanwhile, Dr. Larch is hitting the ether bottle much too hard.

Reviews by CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard
Lasse Hallstrom is a shrewd choice as director. The man who gave us My Life As a Dog clearly loves children as much as Dr. Larch did. Jane Alexander, Kathy Baker and Kate Nelligan are almost too good for their small supporting roles. And the movie makes its point.

Some rules, dreamed up by people who donÂ't have to live in the cider house, are made to be broken, like the laws against abortion before Roe v. Wade. Still, with its Andrew Wyeth look, the film is too well groomed.

Unlike IrvingÂ's novel, it leaves out the education of Wilbur Larch into the desperation of his patients; the experience of womenÂ's clinics that encouraged him to establish St. CloudÂ's as a sanctuary; and the sociology of mill towns in the epression.

Moreover, by altogether omitting the female protagonist of the novel who left the orphanage just like Homer, except with a copy of Jane Eyre and a violent grudge against the world, it skews its own politics. A movie thatÂ's resolutely pro-abortion shouldnÂ't rely entirely on patriarchs.

Written by John Leonard
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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