Film Review: “Henry Poole is Here”, Hope Can Save You
Henry Poole finds out that in the midst of the stuff of daily life, with all of its pain and struggle, hope really can save you. A truly good film.
The message of Mark Pellington’s latest film affirms the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI’s second encyclical letter which was entitled “Saved in Hope”. Henry Poole finds out that in the midst of the stuff of daily life, with all of its pain and struggle,hope really can save you.
Henry is a man in deep existential angst. Luke Wilson plays the role brilliantly with a face, demeanor and carriage which is literally, as they say, “right out of central casting”. Later in the film we will learn that Henry has received a terminal medical diagnosis which sent him into the latest downturn. However his hopelessness and despair have been growing inside of him for years, draining away the life. He, like so many people, is a member of the walking wounded, dragging the pain of unresolved childhood hurt and trauma like a ball and chain behind him. The chip on his shoulder has grown so big that he can no longer stand up straight it seems and his downcast eyes see only the ground. In a last ditch effort to find some meaning, or at least a place to crawl into and stew in his depression before his end, Henry tries to go home.
We find out in the opening scene that he had tried to purchase what we will later learn was his childhood home. It was the last place he remembered being happy. That was obviously a long time ago. For this man we meet in the beginning of this truly good film has had the life sucked out of him. All that is left is a hollow shell. Unable to purchase the home he wanted he settles instead for a dark and desolate one down the road. He tells the Realtor to offer the sellers what they asked for, even against her protests. When she later comes to visit Henry who was lying both unshaven and drunk in the back yard of the dreary home, she explains that she had it painted and re-stuccoed at no cost to him. Henry chides her, telling her that she should not have done it because “I won’t be here for long”. In addition, he points out that the stucco job was done poorly because there is a water stain on the corner of the back wall. It is that stain which becomes the intriguing symbolic center of this film.
Through the Realtor, the whole neighborhood would soon hear that their new neighbor won’t be there long. They will not leave him alone with kindness and concern. First to enter into the stark, dreary and gritty world of Henry Poole is “Esperanza”, played with brilliance by Adrianna Barrazza. She brings her new neighbor Tamales and attempts to see inside the home. At first the viewer believes it is just nosiness. However, it is much more. She is also the first to discover an Image in that water stain which she asserts is the “face of God”, the face of Christ. Henry of course thinks the claim to be an utter absurdity. Just what it is and how people respond to the image on the wall becomes the recurring symbolic center for this marvelous film about love, hope, and redemption.
Sadly, some of the reviews I have read about this film get stuck on the image on the Wall of the house. I think that in so doing, they reveal both a shallow analysis and a possible animus against anything which even smacks of religion in an increasingly secularized and hostile cultural environment. We have all seen the absurd claims of cheet-ohs for sale on E-Bay allegedly in the shape of a crucifix.Sadly such nonsense has also tended to close our eyes to the wonders of faith in an age which has lost its way. This film is not so much about the image on the wall as it is about the Image of God in each one of the major characters. It is these well developed characters who reveal for the viewers a mirror into our own lives and our own disordered attitudes. They also help to reveal the true miracle presented in this film -that of our capacity to love and to draw one another out of despair and back to life through offering hope. When we move out of our self centeredness, and through faith and hope practice authentic care and concern for our neighbor, we find the Image restored in each one of us.
As this fine film unfolds, the characters are beautifully developed. Esperanza, whose name literally means hope, becomes a central figure. She is a woman of deep faith who has herself suffered true loss. The house that Henry buys was once owned by the only love of her life. He died of a heart attack and was found on the kitchen floor. That is why she wanted to see the inside again. Esperanza is an example of how suffering can bear the fruit of compassion in the person who embraces it as a tutor and learns at its table. She enters into Henry’s suffering, even enduring his verbal abuse in a poignant and ...
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