The 1999 film The Cider House Rules is based on the 1985 novel by John Irving that bears the same name. Irving wrote the adapted screenplay for the film and thus was deeply and intimately involved in its conception and production. There are many striking differences between the novel and the film, but the most notable difference is how the thematic elements of the story vary between the two mediums. In the novel, Irving chooses to focus mainly on the theme of love and how it can manifest itself in so many different and complex ways. However, in the film, Irving concentrates on Homer finding himself and learning life lessons and figuring out where he really belongs. The main events of the narrative -- such as Homer’s relationship with Dr. Larch; the love triangle between Wally, Candy, and Homer; and Homer’s decision to perform an abortion on Rose Rose and subsequently return to the orphanage -- remain the same in both the novel and film.
The thematic issue of abortion is one that Irving chose to represent comparably in both the book and the movie. We see this topic dealt with mainly through the relationship between Homer and Dr. Larch, and in both mediums we witness the progression of Homer’s views from not objecting to abortions but still refusing to perform them, to ultimately deciding in the end that performing an abortion can be a good thing when necessary. Although Irving spreads out his dialogue between Homer and Dr. Larch about abortion throughout the 587 pages of the novel, much of this dialogue is condensed in the film into the scene in which Homer and Dr. Larch exchange letters while the former is working at Wally’s orchards.
As for the source material for the novel version of The Cider House Rules, Irving did a great deal of research on New England orphanages, but there was not any specific orphanage in Maine upon which St. Cloud’s was based. Irving came across evidence that in New England orphanages, children were frequently not adopted, but by age 15 became “wards of the state.” This research gave way to the creation of the character of Homer, who was never adopted, but lived at the orphanage and trained with Dr. Larch. Also, another piece of research that greatly informed Irving’s creation of the novel was his discovery that many doctors in New England orphanages were supportive of performing abortions, seeing as they witnessed every day what happened to children who were not aborted but were abandoned in orphanages. This research informed Irving’s creation of the character of Dr. Larch, who performed abortions when he was asked to by the mother and insisted upon passing this knowledge down to Homer.