The Cider House Rules (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

People love this movie. People hate this movie.

The fact that people hate a movie doesn't make it bad. In some cases, it might even mean it is very good. If a brilliant filmmaker like Spielberg made a film as strongly pro-Nazi as Schindler's List is anti-Nazi, and it was an even better movie than Schindler's list, people would still hate it.  It might be brilliant, but it would be repulsive to most people not named Manson or Hussein. And the better and more effective the movie, the more people would hate it, because Nazism is scary enough with the ugly face of illiterate and lunatic skinheads, but imagine how scary it would be if Hitler had been as sympathetic as Tom Selleck, and Goebbels as emotionally manipulative as Spielberg.

Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will is a pretty good illustration. She is probably the greatest female director in history, but her status will always be tainted by her subject matter.

I've made a very extreme example to illustrate that Cider House Rules is in a similar, if somewhat less dramatic, situation. Although there are some arguments on both sides, the movie has a fundamentally pro-choice stance on abortion, and some people find that morally repugnant. It has a father who commits incest with his daughter, and although he does great harm, he is not portrayed as an evil person. Some people also find that fact morally repugnant.

But these are not really weaknesses in the film. They are, in fact, strengths. The movie delivers its message powerfully, whether we agree or not.


Strange one, this. Charlize's nude scene was cut from the length of the original screener release. The rear view was retained, but the topless portion, seen in the screener caps, has been excised. In the DVD version, her nipple appears briefly, separated from her head by the guy's head.

On the male side, K. Todd Freeman did a frontal scene - unusual for a PG-13 movie.

The characters are real people, even if we would prefer them to be either Satanic or Holy. In fact, I think the complexity of the characters is the greatest strength of this story. The incestuous father is not all bad. Saint Michael Caine is not all good. And the "other man" in the love triangle is just as good a man as our hero. No directed choices for the viewer, no easy solutions. You have to think 'em all through.

Other people hate it for reasons more closely related to its cinematic quality. For example, although the photography is splendid, it features some really trite and syrupy Hollywood music, some maudlin sentimentality, and an actor (Michael Caine) who, though a fine actor in many ways, went to the Dick Van Dyke school of dialects.

I don't understand the whole accent thing. Why do they bother to force an actor to speak in a dialect unless it's absolutely integral to the plot? Sure some great actors can do any dialect. I've told the Meryl Streep story before, where she was the only actress who got the Irish accent right in Dancing at Lughnasa, despite the fact that the others were Irish! (The story took place in a rural community with a special dialect, and the Irish city girls just never learned the right sounds). But, jeez, Streep is one in a gazillion. A lot of good actors can't do dialects and never even try, and it doesn't affect their reputation at all. You don't hear Kevin Spacey trying to speak Estonian with an Urdu accent, and people think he is a great actor. So why bother to force poor Michael Caine to do the bizarre Mason Adams impersonation he used in this film. All the screenwriter had to do instead was to insert about three words of dialogue explaining that he emigrated to America from the appropriate part of England - and no further problem. He could then have spoken with his own natural accent, and everything would have been hunky-dory. The geographic origin of the doctor doesn't affect the story in any way. In fact, it's obvious from Caine's accent and rhythms that he could not be from Maine, anyway. Given that fact, what difference does it make if he's from the Midwest somewhere (which his accent most resembles, although frankly I've never heard anyone speak quite like this), or from London, or from friggin' Katmandu? What Michael Caine is good at, perhaps better than anyone else in film, is to appear compassionate, down-to-earth and likeable on screen. For God's sake, let him do that in the most natural way he can muster, and just say he moved to Maine from London.

DVD info from Amazon.

2.35:1 letterboxed widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 screens. Good transfer of a good looking film.

Deleted scenes

Full-length commentary with Irving, the director, and the producer.

A behind-the-scenes documentary.

The usual cheesy bios, a trailer, TV spots.

OK, maybe Cider House shouldn't have received its Oscar nomination because of some of its faults. But, faults or no faults, I am here to ask you to forgive all the film's faults, cinematic and otherwise, because they just aren't important when you consider the big picture.

The film really only has one underlying message. It argues that we should love each other more in general, our children most of all, and we should not create children unless we plan to love them. It delivers that message powerfully and simply, as Irving's novel did.

And when you get right down to it, everything else is less significant than that.

So watch it with your kids and hug them when it's over.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: There was no consensus. Opinions appeared on all parts of the visual spectrum. James Berardinelli went infra-red and picked it as his fourth best picture of 1999, and the Academy chose it as one of their elite 5 Best Picture nominees. Leonard Maltin also gave it four stars. On the other hand, Roger Ebert gave it an ultra-violet two stars

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. Only 63% positive overall, and a similar 54% from the top critics. This is certainly not impressive for a film nominated for Best Picture.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.5 (very close to the top 250 of all time). Critics may not like it, but the filmgoers of the world disagree, and have declared it a prince of Maine and a king of New England.
  • With their dollars ... it did well - but not exceedingly well. Domestic box $57 million, overseas $27 million. A solid winner relative to a $24 million budget.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a B-. It is a film which communicates its message powerfully, and it is much more complex than it first appears to be.

Return to the Movie House home page