The story is set in 1943 and centers on Homer Wells, a young man who was raised at St. Cloud’s Orphanage in Maine, where you go to "add a child to your life, or leave one behind." This description was given by Dr. Larch (played by Michael Caine), who benevolently administers the orphanage. Dr. Larch trains Homer in the hopes that Homer will eventually take his place. Homer has other ideas. He would like to venture out and see the world. He also has an ethical disagreement with Dr. Larch who performs abortions (then illegal).
When Homer leaves the orphanage, he works with a group of migrant workers who pick apples and lives with them in the cider house. Posted in the cider house is a list of rules which were unread until Homer’s arrival (he was the only one of them who could read). All the rules were laughable; all had been regularly violated. Mr. Rose, the chief worker, made the observation that nobody should make rules about the cider house if they didn’t live there.
Homer looks up to Mr. Rose and is later shocked to find out that he has been having an incestuous relationship with his daughter. She becomes pregnant and is considering aborting the baby herself, a highly dangerous procedure. Homer then faces the dilemma of whether or not to perform the abortion.
Abortion and the other moral dilemmas depicted in the movie are seen in light of the metaphor of the cider house rules—sometimes the complexities of life cannot be addressed by a list of rules. At one point, Mr. Rose observes that sometimes you have to break the rules to clean up a messy situation.
I found the movie very entertaining and highly thoughtful. I would recommend it to you. How would I respond to the movie’s themes?
- I do believe that sometimes you must break rules in order to help people. People are more important than rules.
- I would point out that Mr. Rose’s mess resulted from his easy willingness to break the rules (this is usually the cause of our messes as well).
- Our God is not an absentee landlord who makes abstract rules for those of us living in his "cider house." The message of the incarnation is that God came to live in the cider house with us and knows its complexities. Jesus often chose people over rules. To those who criticized him for healing on the Sabbath, he answered: "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath." At last, he identified with the brokenness of the "rule breakers" by hanging on the cross for us.