Movie Review: Henry Poole Is Here

I remember seeing the trailer for Henry Poole Is Here and thinking that it looked like a kinda funny movie.  If you saw the trailer as well and thought that it was a light-hearted movie touching on faith, please be aware that this is not a comedy.  Please be aware that you will spend 90% of the movie watching Luke Wilson with a pained expression on his face.  I won’t say if this is a good or a bad thing, but it’s something to be aware of all the same.  And it’s good to be aware that this review contains spoilers for the movie.  Not that you aren’t going to basically know what is going to happen in the movie after 30 minutes into it, but still.  I want to be fair.

Remember, spoilers ahead.

Henry Poole is a man with little time to live and little interest in spending what time he does have left actually living.  He moves into the house where he assumes he’ll die, and attempts to not get engaged with his snoopy neighbor or the single-mom hottie next door with the curious 6-year old daughter.  He didn’t ask for any improvements to be made to the house before purchasing it, but his agent arranged for it to be restuccoed and repainted.  This last part is crucial, as his nosy neighbor discovers the face of Christ in what Henry writes off as a water stain in a poorly done stucco job. 

Did I mention that Henry is an atheist?

Athiest +Face of Christ on his wall = conflict.

The movie wants to provide hope.  It seems to define hope very generically as “hope in this world” – at least that’s the theme that keeps being reiterated on the ‘making of’ feature that is included on the DVD.  For a film that centers around the image of the Son of God on an atheist’s wall and the attendant challenges and miracles tied up with it, God, Jesus, Christianity, miracles, the Bible – none of these words or names are mentioned in the ‘making of video’.  Frankly, they’re only used as props in the movie itself.  It’s as though it was a movie centered around an inspiring dog – apparently the cast and crew consider a ‘hope’ based on Christian concepts and icons to be as generically accessible as a special interest segment on a three-legged cat on the local news.

There are a plethora of problems with the movie.  It tries too hard.  It relies on clichés for characters as well as dialogue.  Henry is a lovable guy who is acting – understandably – rather unlovably.  The snoopy neighbor has a heart of gold as well as a deep and rich life of faith.  The single-mom hottie next door doesn’t seem to be particularly spiritual, but she repeatedly talks in terms of praying for things to happen or not happen, as opposed to the more generic term hoping.   The single-mom hottie falls for Henry almost upon setting eyes on him as does her daughter.  All the stars are aligned to beat poor Henry into submission.  Which is ironic, since faith is portrayed exclusively as a choice.

Faith is depicted as a personal choice to believe something – though exactly what is never explicitly stated.  At the very least, to believe that the stain on Henry’s wall might actually be a miraculous, bleeding image of the face of Christ that could have all of the curative powers traditionally associated with such manifestations.  The grocery store clerk chooses to believe, and God pays off.  The neighbor girl chooses to believe, and God pays off again.  Will Henry choose to believe or not?  Will God give in for such an amiable gruff of an atheist?   I’ll bet you can guess.

The symbolism is not exactly subtle.  The fence separating Henry and the single-mom hottie’s back yard is chain link with those lovely plastic strips woven through to give the illusion of privacy.  Except that most of them are broken off, resulting in all sorts of cross-shapes popping up in scenes around the fence.  Henry’s yard is pretty sparse and uninteresting, while his deeply faithful neighbor has a rich, vibrant, lush yard complete with a pool and shade trees.  Get it?  Henry’s life is bare and empty because he doesn’t have faith.  Esperanza has faith, and therefore her backyard kicks butt.

That’s another little thing.  Names.  Esperanza (Hope).  Dawn.  Patience.  Dawn wears a shirt at one point emblazoned with Harmony.  What an amazing coincidence of names around Henry – all pointing to faith and hope.  All of this would be somewhat passable if the ending were better.  If it were anything but the drawn-out predictable ending that you know is coming as soon as the cast of characters are in place.    All of the muttered God’s and Jesus’ and Lords and other forms of taking the Lord’s name in vain would be halfway worthwhile if the ending of the film really reflected not only hope, but an honest struggle of some sort.  A resolution of sorts beyond the Make-A-Wish variety.  But that’s far and away beyond the ability of this film. 

I really like the premise for this movie.  There are some good actors who wandered into it.  But the film never has the spine to really do anything that it sets itself up to do.  As such, you feel bad for Henry – a lot – but since you know how it’s going to end he quickly becomes annoying.  Henry’s refusals to recognize the obvious seem forced and disingenuous – culminating in his final post-modern refusal to acknowledge the obvious evidence purely because he can’t apparently handle the thought that he might be wrong.  This should have been a great movie about the Christian faith and the Christian God and the world being overrun with His grace and healing.  Instead, it truly is a movie about a stucco stain.  I guess there’s something to be said for truth in advertising.




3 Responses to “Movie Review: Henry Poole Is Here”

  1. Tyler Says:

    Even if you didn’t love this film, if you missed it and are looking for a good family film – I encourage you to check out the recently released family version.It was such a great story about a real life guy who was struggling with his faith and accepting it. This is something that I’ve been struggling with myself for the past couple of years. It was such an encouragement to see this played out. And it’s really cool that I’ve found a site, http://www.henrypoolebelieves.com. Right now it looks like they are giving away 10 copies of the movie for free. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, or even if you have, you could always give it to a friend, but it’s definitely worth checking out!It’s a GREAT film for a FAMILY movie night…especially if you are looking for a break from typical Hollywood!

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    Hi Tyler – thanks for sharing this information.  I’m glad that you enjoyed the movie, and particularly so as you’ve struggled with faith issues.  I’d love to talk with you more about what sorts of things you’ve struggled with, and how this film was helpful to you!I’d argue that this is not really a family movie – unless you’re looking for a movie to watch with older children to discuss some of the themes in the movie – despair in the face of death, the nature of faith (is it something you “choose” to have, or is it a gift?), what is the nature of love, why do good people (and little children) have to struggle and suffer and sometimes even die, that sort of thing.  And of course there are other conversations to be had – what are miracles and do we still believe in them, does Henry Poole at the end of the movie?  That sort of thing.  I’d also suggest that this could be an interesting movie for a jr/sr high church youth group to watch and discuss.  I think the movie’s best function is perhaps that of discussion generator.  That way, the themes and ideas that are brought up and never dealt with adequately in the movie can be fleshed out.  Otherwise, the film borrows religious terminology and ideas without ever really making a decision about what it thinks about them – as manifested by Poole’s ability in the final scenes to simply say that he doesn’t know what happened.  Clearly, the audience is being encouraged to think that a miracle has occurred, that Henry has been healed by God.  Yet Henry isn’t so sure. Without discussion, I think younger children are going to get bored and wonder why Henry is always scowling and so mean to people.  So if you have older kids and you want to talk about faith issues, then I agree – this movie could be a great choice!    

  3. YreNextTrgt Says:

    [b]NATO is taking over command of military operations in Libya from coalition forces, world media reported Sunday.[/b] The UN Security Council imposed the no-fly zone over Libya on March 17, along with ordering “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi’s attacks on rebel-held towns. The 28 NATO ambassadors met on Sunday to decide on further military plans in Libya. The United States transfers command for a no-fly zone over Libya to NATO, while coalition forces will continue to protect civilian population from attacks by Gaddafi forces. The military operation in Libya, codenamed Odyssey Dawn, has been conducted so far jointly by 13 states, including the United States, Britain and France. NATO members decided on Thursday to assume responsibility for the enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya, but could not agree on taking full command of all military operations in the country. Meanwhile, leaders of the 27 European Union states on Thursday issued a statement saying the EU stood ready to assist in building a new Libya “in cooperation with the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and others.” MOSCOW, March 27 (RIA Novosti) http://en.rian.ru/world/20110327/163235937.html

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