The Cider House Rules is a beautiful, beautiful film. Based on John Irving's novel, it's set in the years before WWII, as a boy who's spent his entire life in an orphanage chooses to explore the outside world. It's extremely difficult to sum up the story, or even to describe central themes, because this film means so many different things to different people. For some, it's about the relationship with between a father and son, how the father tries to impart his wisdom, and how the son wants to forge his own path. For others, it's a story of youth and maturity. Others still will look at it as a historical film preserving a way of life that doesn't exist anymore.
While it lost the Oscar in 2000 for Best Picture to American Beauty, it won gold statues for Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor; the latter was a highly competitive contest, including Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile and Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. I'll leave it to you to decide which extremely talented performance deserved the award that year, but if I had my way, I'd have given a two-way tie, plus a special award for Outstanding Juvenile Performance. If you read the book of The Cider House Rules, you'll see that Michael Caine's character is actually the lead in the story, but in the long, complicated process of turning his novel into a screenplay, John Irving made the focus of the story Tobey Maguire's journey. Michael Caine is still the heart and soul of the film; his lines are the most memorable long after you leave the theater, and his scenes inspire the most tears.
Tobey Maguire, who was not even nominated that year, also completely embodies his role. He's raw and emotional, mature in some ways but completely inexperienced in others. It's truly exhausting to watch this film, because as Tobey lives through his imprinting experiences, his face shows every hurt.
Lasse Hallstrom, whose films are sometimes a little more sweet than serious, gives incredible love and care to his direction. The colors are beautiful, paying tribute to New England, and the scene transitions are smooth, paying tribute to the time period in which the film is set. He compiled a star-studded supporting cast, all of whom are authentic and full of emotion: Paul Rudd, Kathy Baker, Jane Alexander, Kate Nelligan, Delroy Lindo, Erykah Badu, and J.K. Simmons. Charlize Theron plays the love interest, and while I don't happen to like her as an actress, she doesn't really detract from the film too much. There's so much more to love, so whenever I watch it, I concentrate on the other cast members, the poignant and heart-wrenching script, beautiful music, and lovely scenery.
I watched the film before reading the novel, and as much as I absolutely love the book, I recommend watching the film first. The novel spans decades, and if you read it first, you'll probably be disappointed that certain plot points and characters are cut out. The book starts decades before the film, and continues decades after the ending. However, watching the film first allows you to fall in love with the story and then learn more about it. I love both versions of The Cider House Rules, even though it inspires buckets of tears every time I watch and read it. It's so incredibly lovely, and it's so rare that this degree of near-perfection is reached.
Kiddy Warning: Obviously, you have control over your own children. However, due to adult subject matter, a rather intense sex scene, and scenes of abortion, I wouldn't let my kids watch it.