“The Book of Henry”, directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Gregg Hurwitz, is layered, in the sense that the plot is partially driven by the contents of a handwritten notebook authored by the charismatic Henry (think “Nocturnal Animals”) and it is also Biblical, in that the 12 year old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is almost like a Christ figure (think Danny in “Judas Kiss”) who really could save us, so his book is like a Gospel.
Unfortunately, Henry has an unusual, opportunistic brain tumor. It starts with headaches, and a seizure, and he dies in his mother’s arms, looking at the sky. It’s a horrific tragedy. It is sudden, like Lee Atwater’s in 1989. Why would this happen. Was he born with HIV? His single mom (Naomi Watts) also has a younger son Peter (Jacob Tremblay, from “Room”) whom we also hope will grow up to be a genius.
Henry and Peter have built a tree house with all kinds of perpetual motion gadgets. Mom likes to play video games on TV, but the movie has the look of the early 90s (in upstate New York). Mom (Susan) works in a diner as a waitress even though it’s not clear she has to. (The source of the money is not quite clear.) She often covers for goofball comedian Sheila (Sarah Silverman).
There are twelve year old’s who understand the adult world. I’ve met a few in my life, as a substitute teacher, and at local churches. It’s gratifying to see the same 12 year old a decade ago at 22 today out of college. (Maybe the Washington Nationals could use him as a closer, but I’ll stop there.) But Henry won’t go to M.I.T., Stanford, or UNC. His days are numbered, and he knows it, and he has to take care of his family.
Henry talks fast, often in rich metaphors (“our legacy is not how many commas we have after our name”).
Henry has Jesus’s moral sense. Before his illness, he gets after his mom not intervening in an abusive situation in a supermarket. He says that if everybody minded just their own business, people who can’t take care of themselves would be left to die. Remember the parable of the Rich Young Ruler, who has too much to lose?
Henry, playing “Rear Window”, has spotted the possible abuse of a female classmate by her stepfather, a politically powerful police chief, through the window, in the next door house. He wants mom to intervene but he figures out that politically Child Protective Services won’t help. So his authored book provides the blueprint for what mom must do to stop the stepdad once Henry is gone.
Susan (the mom) puts her comic plan into action to trap the police chief while Sheila leads a talent show at the school. At the end, she burns the Book and the 80s-style minitapes. But the DVD for this movie will need to include a PDF of the Book, with all of Henry’s Da Vinci-like drawings. The Book itself needs ti be published.
The style of the movie is almost that of comedy, despite its tragic middle. The look of it reminds me of “Moonrise Kingdom”.
There is a NatGeo film “The Gospel of Judas” (2006).
|Name:||“The Book of Henry”|
|Director, writer:||Colin Trevorrow, Gregg Hurwitz|
|When and how viewed:||Cinema Arts, Fairfax, 2017/6/20|
|Companies:||Sidney Kimmel, Focus Features|
(Posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)