I rarely get agitated at works of art. But The Cider House Rules movie is a notable exception. Its wretchedness was only enhanced by author John Irving's self-serving speech accepting the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay at the recent Academy Awards. That there hasn't been more anger speaks to the selectivity of political outrage.
In the movie, Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) has been raised in an orphanage under the care of Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine). Larch is a father-figure to Wells, caring guardian to the couple dozen orphans and, oh, yes, an ether-addicted abortionist. Larch teaches Wells everything he knows, though the pupil demurs at aborting babies. Larch asks, "How can you not help these women when you know how? Every life has to be of some use." The irony of that particular statement coming from someone performing illegal abortions is lost on the doctor but not on Homer.
Homer talks meaningfully of the need for adults to have personal responsibility until Wally, a pilot, and Candy, his girlfriend, arrive for an abortion. Homer leaves with the couple and becomes an apple-picker at Wally's farm. As Wally heads off to the war, Homer begins an affair with Candy and befriends several black migrant workers. Upon learning the awful secret among the workers - young Rose (singer Eryka Badu) has been impregnated by her father (Delroy Lindo) - Homer undergoes a transformation and aborts Rose's child.
Cider House disguises itself as a film about a young man "finding" himself. But it stacks the deck against, and ultimately suffocates, Homer's basic moral core. Homer's "natural" anti-abortion sentiments are dismissed as naïve by Larch. By the end of the film, having literally journeyed through a heart of darkness, the viewer is invited, if not manipulated, into adopting Larch's view. The deck is as stacked against the workers as it is against Homer. Illiteracy, incest, abortion, and parricide are the demons visited upon these workers. In essence, the workers are depicted as societal versions of the "orphans" Larch described earlier: They have no choices; they have no options.
After the abortion, the father states, "These rules ain't made for us; we're the ones who are supposed to make our own rules. And we do. Every single day..." The words provide the central justification for the movie's ultimate amorality, but they just as well could summarize the views of Hollywood.
It's not fair to attack a movie solely on the political views of its creator. There are several good performances in this film. But originality and honesty are legitimate criteria upon which to judge art. The cliches are abundant in Cider House Rules and it is, in the final result, a manipulative, dishonest product.
In a Kipling sense, Homer is the white savior to alleviate a poor ignorant black girl's burden. She then kills her father and escapes to find what, her destiny? The killing of Rose's unborn child, along with Dr. Larch's death, "frees" Homer to suddenly realize his destiny and take Larch's place at the orphanage.
The marketing of this film is as dishonest as its storyline. If one sees the trailer, there is no way to tell that abortion is at its heart. The parallel lie, mirroring the central ugliness of the film, is that the promotional trailer gives no indication that there are African-Americans in the film. One has to look closely at the trailer credits to recognize the names of black actors.
While a few conservatives were upset with the film's blatant pro-abortion message, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott still called it a "great movie." Planned Parenthood called Lott's comments a "breakthrough." More likely, Lott is simply clueless. Would he have still considered it a "great movie" had he considered that Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, was a leader in the early eugenics movement? Liberal Hollywood conveniently ignores that history when it supports and gives an award to a film with a rather repugnant moral.
One must ask, "where is the NAACP?" Is the organization so obsessed with insuring that blacks have jobs in TV and movies that they care little about what images are then placed on celluloid? Apparently so, since not a peep has been heard. The response, or lack thereof, to this movie in the broad political community gives credence to a suspicion of mine. While liberals obsess over race as a political issue, almost to the exclusion of everything else, conservatives too often ignore the very real implications of race in life and art - even when they buttress clear conservative issues.
Conservative black Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes,
please book that next flight to California immediately.
(Robert A. George is a member of Project 21 and a New York
Post editorial writer. This appeared in a slightly different version
on National Review Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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