Henry Poole Is Here
            Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) has just been told by his physician that he has a rare, terminal disease.  He seems healthy, and isnít exhibiting any particular symptoms, but if he wasnít depressed before, he sure is now.  He decides to buy a house near the one where he grew up---no negotiations necessary, just give them their asking price----and goes to the grocery store to buy liquor and junk food.  If you asked him what his plan was, heíd say he didnít have one, but obviously to the casual observer, all he wants to do is drink himself into oblivion, waiting for the inevitable end to come.  All is sweetness and light, right?
            The problem is that there are a series of casual observers in his life.  The first is a nosy next-door neighbor, suitably named Esperanza (Adriana Barraza of ďBabelĒ fame), who brings him a plate of cookies and tries hard to make his acquaintance, but he just isnít interested in being polite.  No future in it.  Next, he meets the little girl next door, Millie (Morgan Lily), who actually doesnít speak.  She just tape records whatever conversations he has in the back yard, and plays them back, and if he tries to speak to her, she runs away.  Soon he meets her mother, Dawn (Radha Mitchell) who explains that her daughter hasnít spoken since her father died.  Henry just shuffles back home, trying to mind his own business, but even when he goes to the grocery store for more oblivion supplies, the clerk there named Patience (Rachel Seiferth) asks him whatís wrong, insisting that me must be either sad or mad or both.  Itís not as easy to be an iconoclast as he assumed it would be.
            And then, the dramatic happens.  Well, at least everybody else thinks so.  The nosy Esperanza notices a pattern on his stucco wall that looks to her like the face of Jesus.  Henry says itís just a stain where they did a bad job of re-stuccoing before he moved in, even though he insisted it wasnít necessary (what does he care about resale value?).  Apparently his well-meaning but overeager agent (Cheryl Hines) was sort of paying him back for his willingness to purchase at full price, with full commission.  Henry does his best to downplay the idea of any kind of accidental image, but the religious Esperanza is by now in a fanciful flight of ecstasy.  She invites her church friends to come and pray at the ďshrine,Ē and Henry angrily drives them all away.  Even the friendly parish priest, Father Salazar (George Lopez) invites Henry to talk about whatís troubling him, but Henry is so determined to be a curmudgeon that he demands that they all leave immediately.
            The breakthrough comes when the little girl, Millie, touches the wall, and begins speaking again.  Her mother wonít go so far as to claim itís a miracle, but she does say that she knows that before her daughter touched the wall, she didnít speak, and now she does (see the parentsí reaction in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John).  Now Henry is conflicted, because he canít help but be glad that the little girl has made a significant step.  He also begins to respond to the gentle, unassuming demeanor of her Mom.  Yes, heís argued with Esperanza that people of faith are pitiful, because they need to hope in something in order to somehow validate themselves, and how ridiculous is it to be waiting until a man comes back whoís been dead for 2,000 years? 
            Well, that puts faith squarely in the center of the discussion, doesnít it?  Never mind that there appears to be drops of blood coming out of the apparition.  Henry, in a fit of pique and rage, just destroys the wall with a sledgehammer, anyway, but as he does, part of the roof falls on top of him, and he winds up in the hospital, where they discover that whatever rare disease he once had now no longer seems to be there.
            OK, so what are we to make of this?  Skeptic becomes true believer?  Not exactly.  Henryís primary emotion is bewilderment.  People of faith convert the unbeliever?  Hardly.  They are actually more of an annoyance and repellant to him.  God sends a miracle in order to make a believer out of an atheist?  Well, we all know that as long as God allows free will, then those will not be convinced will find a way to resist, anyway, and besides, where thereís irrefutable evidence, thereís hardly any need or room for faith.
            So, at the end, all Henry Poole really knows is that heís here.  And that there are people who care if he is or not.  And, more significantly, he now cares whether he is or not.  And that may be the closest that some ever come to religion.  But sometimes itís just close enough.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville, Texas