Hard cider

Combining the frivolous suspense of a game show and the solemnity of a coronation, the "Oscars" (March 26, this year) seem to have a little something for everyone not glued to "Mother Angelica Live." Given the self-promotional nature of the event, it is dangerous to read too much significance into which films are nominated or eventually awarded prizes. Social or cultural trends detected on Oscar night are often as skimpy as the outfits worn by some participants. That said, one of the movies nominated for best picture this year merits further scrutiny.

The Cider House Rules is an extended meditation on abortion, and it is a disturbing film for several reasons. Adapted for the screen by John Irving from his own novel, The Cider House Rules is by turns affectingly sentimental, sure about its own virtue, and more than a little troubling in the way its pragmatic philosophical message relies on violence to resolve human problems. Ultimately, it is a very manipulative film.

The story is set in an orphanage in Maine in the early 1940s. Dr. Wilbur Larch, the director of the orphanage, is an ornery soul and a skilled obstetrician, as dedicated to caring for the "abandoned" children left on his doorstep as he is to providing abortions for women who request them. Larch has trained Homer Wells, the eldest boy in the orphanage (and who hasn’t been to high school, much less medical school), as an obstetrician and...

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