In the world of Henry Poole Is Here miracles exist, faith is the wisest operating principle and intelligent thought is everywhere discouraged. After all, when—per the film’s mantra “Some things just can’t be explained rationally”—any sort of logical discourse could only prove futile. Not that Henry Poole (Luke Wilson), a man dying of a mysterious disease who moves back to his hometown to live out his days in solitary alcoholism, doesn’t try to bring a skeptical intelligence to the proceedings; when his irritatingly zealous neighbor (helpfully named Esperanza in case we didn’t catch the importance of hope) finds a stain in Poole’s stuccoing and decides it’s Christ’s face, Poole does his game best to maintain his doubt even as the entire neighborhood lines up to pray to his wall. But as series of miracles start to accumulate (blood dripping from the “face,” a woman with double thick glasses suddenly granted perfect vision), the film begins to stack its cards against Poole’s stubborn rationalism and his protestations seem like the increasingly desperate flailings of a confirmed heretic.
All of which leaves little room for the skeptical (or non-idiotic) viewer to position himself in the film and if the proliferation of “unexplainable” events doesn’t clinch it, then director Mark Pellington’s self-consciously “spiritualized” aesthetic leaves little doubt. Flooding the screen with bright light, employing rising eye-of-God crane shots, intercutting generic images of the “heavens” and setting it all off to sappy piano-and-strings slop (augmented with some “otherworldly” electronic effects), Pellington offends the viewer’s aesthetic sensibilities as surely as he does his intelligence. And boy does he offend the latter.
By the film’s end, Poole’s attitude has begun to change (which we know because he’s finally shaved off his scruff and because he befriends a child—not because narrow-ranged Wilson has suggested any sort of difference in the character), but this seems scarcely to be the point. In a world ruled by the miraculous, a single person is stripped of any sort of agency. When Poole experiences his own miracle, it may come about through his own action, but where he intended it as an act of destruction, it was reshaped by a higher power into an act of healing. You see, God works in mysterious ways and since we have little power to interfere, it’s best not to question him. Above all, the film suggests, it’s best not to think.