In St. Cloud, Maine, Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine) runs an orphanage. It’s also the remote destination where unwed mothers come for safe (but still illegal) abortions or give birth to their unwanted children. The children are left, named by Larch, and grow among the other children, all wishing to be adopted. After two unsuccessful adoptions as a baby, Homer Welles (Toby Maguire) has been raised in the orphanage and medically trained by Larch, who hopes that Homer will one day run the facility. When Homer meets a young couple seeking an abortion, he leaves with them to see the world outside of the orphanage.
Once Homer sets off, the film quickly becomes a charming coming-of-age odyssey. In his early talks with Dr. Larch, we understand that Homer is still very naive and expects too much from people. This spills over into his refusal to perform abortions. On his own, Homer encounters numerous pitfalls, that he expects people to avoid, himself. Love and sex aren’t so easy to avoid, and Homer learns that they can create other complications besides children.
While The Cider House Rules brings forward the touchy abortion issue, the film does not preach. The whole feel of the film is so mellow, calm and naturally beautiful, everything would have been ruined if anyone so much as raised their voice. While it feels that only Homer strongly opposes the issue, he is far too compassionate to judge or deny the procedure when it is needed most.
Caine’s performance as Dr. Larch earned him the Oscar for best supporting actor. He portrays Larch to be both a man of medicine and a father figure for the orphans, choosing Homer as his protégé and son. In a medical sense, Larch is against ignorance and thinks of the safety of his patients first. As a care taker to the children, Larch is very warm, open and always tries to make them happy. With Homer and another older boy, he teaches them to help him and confide more responsibilities. With sick children, like the heart-wrenching little Fuzzy, it’s all about warm care and special attention. Yet, Larch is not perfect. He hides an addiction to ether, and when Homer leaves, he acts disappointed and distant. He’s simply a proud parent who does not want to see the future he planned for Homer go to waste.
The Cider House rules was simply enjoyable. The characters are vivid, complex and inviting while the plot is simple, slow paced, yet compelling. What I love most was the beautiful photography of New England in the autumn. It helps give the whole film a starry-eyed storybook feel. As Homer left home, the world looks so far and wide with splashes of brilliant color in the crisp air. A magenta twilight had burst through the pine trees. The apple trees in the orchard were so thick and full of fruit, you could hide and nap in them.
“Goodnight, you princes of Maine. You kings of New England.”
Don’t know how I let this one slip by without a comment. One of my favorites of 1999 and your description of it as simply enjoyable was right on. I don’t know about acting nominations or awards because it struck me as more of a great ensemble piece. There were so many good stories and so many excellent performances. The issue of abortion was handled with sensitivity and intelligence. It was wonderful to see Jane Alexander and Kathy Baker, too! This film always brings a tear to my eye, Lasse Hallstrom has a way of telling a story so sweetly and tenderly…he deserved a nomination! Beautiful film!