Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Henry Poole Is Here for Friday Night Flicks

I always enjoy movies that explore challenging subject material, especially matters of faith, doubts and unbelief. One such film is from 2008, Henry Poole is Here, starring Luke Wilson. I’m sure you will recognize him because he is the current pitch man for AT&T’s ongoing television advertising campaign.

The story centers around Henry Poole, played by Luke Wilson, who has recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Poole purchases a house in his old working-class neighborhood where he had a difficult and painful childhood. All he wants to do is to be left alone to live out his remaining days in quiet desperation. His plans also call for the consumption of mass quantities of vodka. Poole feels that life has dealt him an unfavorable hand, and there is little to do but to accept the reality of his situation.

Contrary to Poole’s plans, his peaceful solitude is soon interrupted by his next door neighbor, Esperanza Martinez (Adriana Barraza), who believes that she sees the face of Christ embedded on the exteor wall of Poole’s home. She is convinced that it is a miracle because drops of blood are exuding from the wall.

Soon Esperanza is organizing pilgrimages to see the miracle in Poole’s back yard. Obviously, this does not set well for Henry’s peaceful existence. Henry is an unbeliever as well as an atheist and rejects the notion of any type of miracle. He only wises to die in peace. Complicating matters is Poole’s other next door neighbor who has a small child that seems to be attracted to Poole. As the plot unfolds, there is a question of what is actually happening to the people who touch the image. Some believe they are being healed. Do miracles really happen? Can Henry Poole be touched even if he doesn’t believe in the power of faith? And how do we choose to believe in things that we do not understand?

These are some of the questions that Henry Poole is Here poses. Any time you combine the subject of faith and miracles, you’re sure to open yourself up to criticism. And with that said, most film critics had a field day condemning Henry Poole is Here as nothing more than a complete waste of time.

Was it the subject material or the technical or artistic merits of the film that bothered the critics? I would agree that Henry Poole is Here may not be Oscar-worthy material, but it is a solid effort that, for the most part, hits the mark. This is one of Luke Wilson’s better efforts to date. And the supporting cast is clearly on target.

Henry Poole is Here is a very spiritual movie and has the capability to touch not only believers but agnostics and atheists as well. This film is authentic and real, and everyone can respect that. Few mainstream Hollywood films offer a positive view on faith. Henry Poole is Here avoids the usual pitfalls by not painting believers in a stereotypical manner—as narrow-minded, right wing religious zealots. The main Christian character, Esperanza, is seen as loving and exerts kindness and caring toward Henry. She has only his interests at heart.

Two of the key scenes in the movie illustrate the power of God at work in film. The first scene evolves around Poole confronting Esperanza on why she wants Poole to believe that a miracle is taking place and why it is necessary for her faith. Poole expresses his unbelief, resentment and doubt concerning the existence of God. The second scene is when Patience played by Rachel Seiferth expresses her desire to choose to believe in her miracle. This scene is a quiet example of how to share our faith in the small, meaningful moments, which most of us don’t recognize.

If you are looking for a film that is strange, thoughtful and unusual, then Henry Poole is Here is a good choice. Perhaps the real miracle of Henry Poole is Here is believing in something bigger than ourselves and the willingness to accept it. Maybe just discovering the joy of life once again, in and of itself, is a real miracle. For film goers, Henry Poole is Here is truly a miracle because we do not see films that are willing to explore matters of faith, belief, doubt and the healing power of God from mainstream Hollywood. That is truly a miracle.


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