Thoughts On The Movie “Henry Poole Is Here”
Directed By Mark Pellington (2008)
Written by Albert Torres
When Mark Pellington was interviewed about this work, he shared the simple circumstances by which this film was birthed. He had experienced the death of his wife and he felt seemingly lost. Then Albert Torres presented him with his story about Henry Poole and he agreed to direct it.
Mr. Pellington made a comment of how cathartic this work was for him at a time of deep tragedy in his life. He felt such loss and his instinct was to run into hiding. Instead, he welcomed the story and we can see and feel his genuine entry into the woven strands of certain truth presented to us via this film.
As humans, our primal instinct is to flee from danger. We may strategize very cunning ways to run. All forms of addictions are ways of running. If we dare reflect on our life, we may see the events as glorious ambitions and noble feats. These may well include a climb up the corporate ladder or running around helping to fix and/or control everyone and everything that comes our way. This is not to dismiss the goodness which may come forth from these achievements. However, life is a complex and interwoven tapestry with so much hidden depth and often we do not see clearly that which drives us until we are ready.
One may think and believe that all is well and relax into a well constructed life only to be thrown a curve ball, a sudden chain of events that were not part of the blueprints. Some crisis, some deep loss, some helplessness is thrown our way and we fall. It is in those dark times, when crisis engulfs us and we are unable to cope due to trauma and shock, that something unexplainable may come our way. A person, a happening, a satori, something which does not fit into the familiar world which we know, suddenly is present before us.
Depending on the environment, children may run from pain in various ways. Henry Poole, played by Luke Wilson, taught himself to hide from the chaos of his parents’ arguing. He would leave the scene and drive on his bike to his hiding place tucked inside an overpass. Alone he sat and was not bothered by the chaos which life threw at him.
So often I will hear similar ways of coping from the young people whom I see. They will share the hardships with which they are faced, whether it be with the stabbing of harsh criticism from their school peers or with the violent outbursts from the adults in their lives. I look into their eyes and ask, “What do you do when this happens to you?”
“Well, I go into my room and colour in my colouring book or sometimes I go and play video games or I sneak into the cupboard and find goodies to eat.”
I then inquire, “Do you ever discuss with the adults how the arguing makes you feel?” “No”. Just as young Henry Poole did.
So children learn how easy it is to be distracted from pain. The problem is that continually embracing various ways of being distracted from suffering becomes part of the core problem which stunts true growth and real success.
Young Henry found a way to run and avoid the pain he felt while hearing his parents argue. He isolated himself.
We then see Henry the adult with a suit and tie who has become part of the working world. In one scene Henry is sitting in his doctor’s office. We see his response as he is met with the words coming at him from his doctor:
“You are going to die”.
Doing what he trained himself to do, Henry runs. He leaves his city job, takes off his suit and tie and he returns to his childhood neighbourhood. Armed with plenty of alcohol, he decides he will end his days by numbing the pain of death.
However, his plans become interrupted by the kindness of people and as well by one of those unexplainable events.
There is a mother named Dawn, played by Radha Mitchell and her little daughter Millie, played by Morgan Lily, living in the house next to Henry’s. Millie has created a safe little haven by the side of her home within a fence. When Henry comes over to the fence and speaks to Millie, she runs.
Henry discovers that this beautiful little girl is mute. Dawn tells Henry that she has been mute since her father left her a year ago. She has been traumatized by her father’s abandonment. Dawn has taken Millie to the doctor for testing and there is nothing physical that relates to Millie’s mute state.
Henry befriends Dawn. At the same time another inquiring neighbour, Esperanza, visits Henry with a welcome gift. At one point Esperanza becomes so excited by something she sees on the outside wall of Henry’s house. She sees a face which she calls “the face of God”. Henry explains to her that it is an old house and really, it is a stain that she sees and nothing more. He brings out the hose to wash it down.
Well, Esperanza does not let go easily. She starts to invite other people to see the face, including her priest, played by George Lopez. Suddenly, there is a drop of blood on the face. Just one drop.
The excitement escalates and so does Henry’s frustration. People are now visiting his house, where he is destined to die, and they are reaching out to touch the face on the side of Henry’s house. A young woman’s vision is healed and she no longer has to wear her thick glasses. It is the same young woman who works at the store where Henry purchases his medicine – alcohol - to assist him in his dying process.
There is a scene where the little girl, Millie, is standing alone in the darkness of the night before the face on Henry’s house. She looks at the face and reaches out and touches it.
Her mother awakens and is calling out for her as Millie is not in her bed. She is frantic as she searches for her daughter. She leaves her home and then sees Millie. Running towards her she picks up Millie and hears her daughter speak for the first time in a year.
There is a shift and we see Henry move towards a relationship with Dawn. He forgets, for a while, about his upcoming death and experiences friendship as he and Dawn laugh together and enjoy simple things which bring deep joy. As he opens his heart, Henry becomes vulnerable. He then remembers his sentence of death. At one point we see him alone, in the dark, standing before the face on the side of his house. Tears come forth as he reaches out his hand to almost touch the face. He does not like the feeling of being vulnerable but he reluctantly reaches out. Then he pulls back. Is it from fear that he does so, from the belief that nothing really can change for the better? Perhaps he pulls back as he did when as a young boy he pulled back from his parents’ arguing and left his home as he drove his bike into his hiding place.
He runs again. The next day we see Henry’s anger bursting forth as he trashes the face on the side of his house with a sledge hammer in front of the visitors. We can feel the anger rushing forth from the core of his being. Anger which has been buried for years and years, hiding within him, comes forth in a rage. The construction of distraction and any addictive barrier creates a block of bricks within which we throw our feelings. It is easier to run. It takes moral courage to really feel and accept the reality of our being human. The feelings within the confines of the brick wall do not disappear. They grow within and hold us captive.
Even with all of this, awaiting him is a new life. It is the fact that Henry Poole takes one tiny step and lifts up his arm as he reaches out, that mercy is shed upon him. He took one step, a courageous one. The desire for something better had been awakened within him. And it was fulfilled.
Mr. Pellington faced his wife’s passing from this world and created a frame of reference, via this film, for an important message for us all. It is when we face our dark places with courage and faith, when we feel that which we have no control over, that we then allow the miracle of redemption, of healing, to take place.
“Diseases can be our spiritual flat tires - disruptions in our lives that seem to be disasters at the time but end by redirecting our lives in a meaningful way.”
~Dr. Bernie S. Siegel
Dr. Siegel founded the ECAP ( exceptional cancer patient) groups where so many patients who were dying from cancer recovered and/or discovered a new life of meaning. He is the author of many fine works including “Love, Medicine and Miracles”.
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