Appearing on Meet the Press the morning before the Oscars, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was asked to cast an unofficial ballot for Best Picture:
Tim Russert: Who's going to win the Oscars?
Lott: Well, I saw The Cider House Rules. I enjoyed that tremendously.
Russert: Best picture?
Lott: It was great. Best movie.
Russert: Trent Lott moving out into Hollywood. Thanks for joining us.
Russert, usually an aggressive follow-up questioner, must not have seen The Cider House Rules or read the John Irving novel it's based on; if he had, he probably would not have treated this as a lighthearted moment. The Cider House Rules makes a heartfelt case for a woman's right to have an abortion. Dr. Wilbur Larch, the kindly Down East orphanage director played by Oscar winner Michael Caine, performs illegal abortions (the film's period is the 1940s); his protégé, Homer Wells, opposes abortion initially but comes around when an incest victim he knows nearly kills herself trying to get rid of her fetus. Irving, who won an Oscar for the screenplay, thanked the Academy in his acceptance speech "for this honor to a film on the abortion subject," praised Miramax "for having the courage to make this movie in the first place," and concluded by thanking "everyone at Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion [and Reproductive] Rights [Action] League." Here is how a "volunteer guest reviewer" for Christian Spotlight on the Movies, sized upCider House:
The messages in this movie are clear: abortion, fornication, drug use, lying, incest, and murder are condoned; rules are made to be broken. There are no absolutes. ... While Christians are to extend grace and forgiveness, the Bible is clear that certain rules are not to be broken and exist for our own protection. God loves us and cares deeply for us. Beware of the philosophy behind The Cider House Rules.
Chatterbox disagrees with this assessment; he rather liked The Cider House Rules. Then again, Chatterbox rather likes living in a country where women have the right to have abortions. Lott, on the other hand, is a conservative Republican whose Web site has this to say about abortion:
In my view, the Supreme Court tragically erred in its Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Throughout my tenure in both the House and Senate, I have supported pro-life legislative efforts. I oppose the use of tax dollars to fund abortions. I have also strongly supported banning the "partial-birth" abortion procedure. Rest assured that I will continue working to protect children before birth as these issues come before the Senate.
It's possible that Lott bases his liking of The Cider House Rules on a belief that abortions should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, but the film's message really isn't targeted that narrowly. Another possibility is that Lott hasn't really seen the whole film; and another is that even conservative social-issues Republicans like Lott have lost their outrage about this issue.
[Update, 3/28: Lott spokesman John Czwartacki, with whom Chatterbox yesterday played phone tag, informs this column that Lott "did see the whole movie" (he went with his wife); that Lott does indeed exempt from his opposition to abortion instances involving "rape, incest, and the life of the mother"; and that "just because you enjoy good acting doesn't mean you have to agree with a political agenda. Trent Lott doesn't dictate to Hollywood what it produces."]
[Update, 1/29/08: The name of the "volunteer guest reviewer," which originally appeared in this column, has now been removed at the request of the guest reviewer. He says that his comments were "greatly expanded on" by Christian Spotlight on the Movies to the point where he wishes to disavow authorship. His name has been removed on that Web site as well.]