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The Cider House Rules

John Irving has stamped the work with terrible swiftness, elevating what in the Forties must have been elided (like Kings Row) into the most direct confrontation of dramatic possibilities. Here is elegance, science, violence, in a pretty tale of New England where the good man who runs the orphanage “plays God” with backroom abortions and squelches his young colleague, who for his part doesn’t even rate himself a doctor but flees to the sanctuary of a migrant workers’ camp and has an affair with a woman whose husband volunteers for the Burma run. One of the apple-pickers is involved with his own daughter, oh it’s an American classic all right.

This is touching material in hands inured to its acidic properties, and those are Irving’s on the screenplay. At the orphanage the children watch King Kong because it’s an American classic about the idol of tyranny replaced by the vision of liberty “under God,” that is, with no intermediary. The Cider House Rules renders image upon image of degradation in the absence of the ideal situation, until their very weight and folly sink the villain like the old old man on Sinbad’s weary back.