Faith is unlike anything else in the universe. It cannot be measured, proven, or analyzed by any man made instruments. Faith is an internal quality that many possess, others covet, and some do not believe exists. It is always lingering, waiting for a moment to burst onto the scene, causing debate, prayer, and anger among the various parties involved when it rears its head.
Henry Poole Is Here encourages faith in all of its forms, which allows it to touch agnostics or atheists as well as those with faith as an important part of their emotional foundation. The film does a wonderful job of carefully sidestepping the promotion of any religious beliefs by focusing on a person without any sort of doctrine, Henry Poole. The examination of this faithless character as the central part of the film makes it applicable and moving to all.
Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) has moved into his childhood neighborhood after learning he is going to die. The reason he moved here was because of the faint memories he had of a boy who found joy in life, but those times are long gone. Although he thinks that the best childhood memories will be the first thing he remembers, the thing that continues to haunt him is the fights his parents had, not understanding the psychological and emotional damage that would continue to haunt their son forever.
Patience (Rachel Seiferth), a checkout girl at the local grocery store, astutely observes that Henry is sad and angry through his constant liquor purchases and depressed demeanor. Esperanza (Adrianna Barraza), a devoutly religious woman whose faith is the only thing holding her together after tragedy has struck, greets Henry with tamales as she does with any new neighbor. Millie (Morgan Lily) is a little girl who lives next door, taping conversations others, hoping to regain the voice she lost when her father left. Dawn (Radha Mitchell), her mother, is only concerned that Millie finds her voice again, both in the physical and emotional sense.
All of these people have experienced heartache, and continue to search for answers in a world that seems to be devoid of them. Esperanza sees the face of Jesus in the wall of Henry’s home and proclaims it as the answer to all of her prayers. Henry simply sees it as a poor stucco job that can be easily eradicated, explained, and ignored by any reasonable person who sees the world as he does. He is annoyed by the constant attention Esperanza pays to the wall, which she claims will end if the church can test it. The results of the test and the miraculous events that occur are treasures that must be discovered for yourself.
Each person in the film experiences faith in a different way. Henry, though he continues to deny it, sees a reason for living through his relationship with Dawn. Dawn’s faith grows by the observation of her daughter and interplay with Henry. Millie believes that others will allow her to regain what she has lost. Esperanza, who possesses the most faith, sees through her connection with the Lord that her pain will be healed. Patience achieves inspiration by noticing the pain of Henry and attempting to heal it through human interaction. Her name exhibits something Henry does not boast, and he resists her kindness because it is a concept that is foreign to him.
Luke Wilson, who is excellent, provides the basis for the film by portraying a man who is quietly angry at the beginning and continuously optimistic as it goes along. Wilson plays Henry as a man who exhibits the feeling that he wants to be left alone, while pining to be loved or cared about in some form. Although he realizes that his days are numbered, Henry wants someone to remember him when he is gone. It is a tricky role that is dealt with great prudence by the film by not having him go through a full transformation of faith, but rather illustrating this as the most important step in his journey. All of the other performances are fine in their own right, but the persona he exhibits is the key to the entire movie.
As a person with faith, an existence without it would seem sad and futile. This would mean holding the belief that everyone reaches the same place, no matter how evil or generous their deeds. Henry Poole Is Here understands this concern, dealing with it in a serious and moving fashion to a profound and wonderfully unexpected conclusion.