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,
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