About a week ago, I watched the film Henry Poole is Here, starring Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell and George Lopez. It’s not the greatest thing ever produced, but it’s managed to stick with me for one simple reason — it affirms miracles in the material world, and it does so without irony or hidden agenda.

In the movie, Henry Poole is dying, and has decided to spend out his days in an unfurnished house drinking himself to oblivion. But someone did a crappy job putting new stucco on the house before he moved in, and an oddly shaped water stain forms on the back of the house.

It is not long before his devout, Hispanic Catholic neighbor notices that it looks an awfully lot like…you guessed it, Jesus.

Henry doesn’t think so. He chases off trespassing pilgrims and scrubs the wall with bleach. It doesn’t work.

Eventually, the stain begins to weep tears of what appears to be blood (later in the movie, the Catholic church tests the blood and finds it to be authentic). People who touch it are healed, and when Henry mentions that he hasn’t touched the stain himself, his neighbor — who doesn’t know he’s dying — replies, “But you will.”

A girl who was mute following a traumatic event speaks and a legally blind woman’s eyesight is cured, but Henry is unconvinced. At one moment in the film, Henry — weeping and wanting to live — stands with his fingers outstretched to the stain but can’t find the faith to actually touch it.

Eventually, it’s too much. The girl cured of muteness seemingly reverts, and Henry becomes so enraged at the crowds for their simple faith that he takes a sledgehammer and smashes the shrine they have built at the base of the stain before taking out the wall itself.

It’s at this point that his disease — unnamed during the film —seemingly catches up with him, and as he stumbles, he touches a piece of the rubble that was once a holy water stain in his stucco. Then, because his sledgehammer attack undermined its structure, the entire wall collapses on top of him.

When he awakes in the hospital, Henry is cured. One character seems to assume that a medical mistake was made in his diagnosis, but his Catholic neighbor is convinced otherwise.

The movie ends with Henry unsure of what has happened, not knowing if he was the victim of a medical mistake or the recipient of a bona fide healing.

The viewer, however, knows what has happened, and the film makes no pretense that the miracles were about perception — after all, what about the blind girl?

The film is set in the context of Catholic folk miracles, and so you have to take it with a grain of salt, but the movie never takes a moment to laugh at them — at the pilgrims who light vigil candles at the stain, yes, but not at the miracles associated with it.

A lot of Christians will affirm that the material world can be miraculous, but many would hesitate to affirm this beyond the neo-gnostic idea that what makes prayer cloths (or anything else) holy is that they have been blessed with prayer — in other words, that something spiritual has been done to them. Henry Poole is Here, however, affirms in its own way that God can and does interact with creation in ways we do not understand, that are, ahem, mysterious.

The other remarkable thing about this film is that, for its religious content, it was not marketed to the religious and has no pretentious religious overtones. I prefer the subtler message of Henry Poole is Here to anything produced by Sherwood Pictures any day of the week.

The film was rated PG for a few instances of profanity and because Henry spends the first half of the movie drinking vodka straight from the bottle.

Advertisements