(Warning – Spoilers)

Erykah BaduThis is the film that Ariel and I watched yesterday. It tells the story of Homer Wells, an abandoned child left by his unwed mother at an orphanage run by one Dr Large. He becomes like a son to the doctor, and is trained in all the medicine that comes about in an orphanage where children live, and where women give birth, or are given illegal but relatively safe abortions.

Dr Large intends that Homer will carry on this work, but Homer does not wish to fall in with these plans. He wants to get out and see the world, so he hitches a lift with a couple who come for an abortion, and becomes an apple picker. He falls in love with the female half of the aforementioned couple while the male half is away at war (see? there has to be a love interest or there can’t be a story).

I like the film for its openly pro-choice themes. Homer is anti-abortion, arguing that he himself could have been aborted since he was an unwanted child, yet that he is glad to be alive and would not want any other future-Homers / potential-Homers to end up in an incinerator rather than having a chance at life. The doctor insists that it is better to give women a safe abortion rather than to let them suffer serious injury by trying to carry out their own abortions, or going to dangerously incompetent abortionists for help. Indeed, one woman who comes to the orphanage has done just that, and ended up with a punctured uterus and an infection so bad that she dies of it. By the end of the film, Homer recognises the truth of this, and changes his views to the point where he himself performs an abortion.

I dislike the film because it annoys me that women’s voices are not heard in the debate – but only the voices of Nice Guys who witness what women suffer. I guess this is what happens when you leave a manly man like John Irving (on whose book the film is based) to write your stories.

I also dislike this film because of its portrayal of incest. Homer lives in the eponymous Cider House, with the rest of the apple-picking gang. The leader is Mr Rose, and in the group is also his daughter Rose Rose (pictured above, played by Erykah Badu). In the course of the film we discover that he routinely rapes his daughter late at night, when the other apple-pickers are asleep. We discover that the rest of the gang all know this and tolerate it. We discover that Rose is pregnant.

What I dislike about the incest / rape storyline is that we see very little of what Rose thinks and feels – just enough for us to know that she is pretty unhappy at the whole situation, but absolutely no more than this, no real sense of her experience. Her brave and dramatic escape isn’t even shown onscreen, we just have to guess at what she did, by what happened afterwards.

Instead, we get to see and hear a lot about Mr Rose and his feelings and motives. When challenged by Homer, he says “I would never harm her! I love her!” – as if somehow it’s OK to rape your daughter if you do it with love. When Rose eventually escapes, the focus is on how Mr Rose nobly sacrifices himself to protect her from repercussions, with the suggestion that somehow this makes up for all the damage he has done her. The others are never called out for their total failure to challenge Mr Rose. Although Homer challenges Mr Rose for his actions, he never takes it any further than shouting at him one day and leaving it at that. He accuses Mr Rose of “having sex with your own daughter” but never uses the words rape or incest – nobody uses those words. There is a lot of talk from Mr Rose about how the apple pickers make their own rules (instead of abiding by the cider house rules typed up and hung on a tack in the house), with pretty clear hints that under the apple pickers’ rules, incest and rape are just fine and dandy, as long as it is done with love – that it is just a different way of life, and not for the likes of us to judge.

If I had made this film, I would have unsilenced Rose.