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Movie Review

The Book of Henry

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language.

Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Thriller Drama
Length:
1 hr. 45 min.
Year of Release:
2017
USA Release:
June 14, 2017 (festival)
June 16, 2017 (wide—575 theaters)
Copyright, Focus Features click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Focus Features Copyright, Focus Features Copyright, Focus Features Copyright, Focus Features
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Focus Features

single mothers raising boys

having continual self-doubts

having a child who is a genius

odd mother and young son relationship


child abuse by a step-father and police chief

What is sin?


helping someone who is in danger


cancer in childhood

Where did CANCER come from? Answer

How did bad things come to be on Earth? Answer

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

What kind of world would you create? Answer

Copyright, Focus Features Copyright, Focus Features Copyright, Focus Features Copyright, Focus Features Copyright, Focus Features
Featuring: Naomi WattsSusan Carpenter
Jaeden Lieberher … Henry Carpenter
Maddie Ziegler … Christina Sickleman
Dean Norris … Glenn Sickleman, Christina’s stepfather
Sarah Silverman … Sheila
Lee Pace … David
Jacob Tremblay … Peter Carpenter
Bobby Moynihan … John
more »
Director: Colin Trevorrow—“Jurassic World” (2015), “Safety Not Guaranteed” (2012), “Home Base” (2002)
Producer: Double Nickel Entertainment
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
more »
Distributor: Focus Features

“When someone hurts someone else, we have to make it better.”

Henry’s not your average kid. In fact, he’s one of the most brilliant and unique people in his age group; his teacher even mentions that he really should be in a gifted school with others like him. When asked in class what he wants his legacy to be, he simply replies that he wants to be the one who’s there for people, when know one else will stand, one who is not afraid to do what is right, when others are afraid to.

Still, Henry likes where he is right now. Henry lives at home with his mom, Susan, and his younger brother Peter. But Henry’s been hiding something from his mom and his brother. Over the past three months, Henry has noticed one of his friends, Christina, has not been herself lately. He notices she doesn’t talk in class anymore, doesn’t eat her lunch and has bruises up and down her arms and legs.

Henry has tried speaking to his principal and even Child Protective Services about this, and he suspects that is being sexually abused by her stepfather, Glenn, who just happens to be the police commissioner. Henry comes to the conclusion (a bit misguided) that when you’ve done everything the right way to fix a problem, you have to step aside and perhaps do the wrong thing for the right reasons. In this case, Henry decides, he believes that the police commissioner must be killed in order to save Christina.

***SPOILER*** Before Henry goes through with his plan, however, he finds out he has a tumor that has spread through most of his brain, and that he will not recover from it. So, Henry leaves his instructions to kill the commissioner in a red book (hence the title, “The Book of Henry”) with his mother, asking her to kill the commissioner. Shortly thereafter, Henry passes away. ***END SPOILER***

The film asks the ultimate question: Is it right to do the wrong things for the right reason?

In today’s society, media plays a huge role in what students are exposed to and what they are aware of. We live in different times, and, currently, in much darker times (e.g., the recent baseball practice shooting in Virginia, the Pulse Night Club shooting last year). As I was watching the film, I couldn’t help but pause and reflect on how much I was aware of growing up. Unlike Henry, I was oblivious to much of what was going on around me. In a sense, we see so much evil in the world, so much tragedy, that perhaps we acknowledge it as something we cannot control and that there is nothing we can really do to change it; so why bother? “Let someone else deal with it! It’s not my problem,” we say. In psychology, this is often referred to as the “bystander effect,” not doing something or not jumping in when a stranger needs help.

And yet, as other reviewers have mentioned, this is exactly what “The Book of Henry” is trying to point out, that when someone is in danger, when someone is hurt, we have an obligation to reach out and help. However, “The Book of Henry” also walks a really fine line with its message, in that, while Henry wants to help, how he wants to help is not appropriate. Murder is justified as something the person deserves. I’ll speak more about this later.

Apart from this, I must say the cinematography is relatively strong. My heart ached for many of these characters and what they were going through, so, I’d say character development was fairly strong (with some holes in, perhaps, some prior knowledge regarding the characters’ situation, etc.).

The plot is simple, yet effective, and the length is just right. There are no moments where I was glancing at my watch. However, the overall pacing was somewhat slow in the beginning, sped up in the middle and then slowed down toward the end, which I wasn’t expecting.

Content for Concern

I object to the unnecessary use of foul language.

Profanity and vulgarity: Heavy. “J*sus” (3), “Oh G*d” (6), “G*d d*mn” (2), OMG (2), “h*ll” (2), “d*mn,” “f**k it,” “motherf****r” (not completed), “pr*cks,” s-words (4), “sh*znit,” “d**che bag” (1), “a**,” “b*tch”

Violence: We see a bully push a boy down on a bus, and later that bully or another pushes his face down into what looks like a jelly sandwich. We see a woman playing a first-person shooter video game where some of the animated characters explode with bloody results when shot. A man harasses a woman—including getting physical with her—in a grocery store.

We see a flash and hear the sound of a suicidal gunshot (but don’t see the act itself or the aftermath).

Sexual Content: Moderate. One of the most inappropriate scenes in this film, in my opinion is when a woman visits Henry in his hospital room, and kisses him on the lips before she leaves. She also jokingly drops the prostitute-related line, “Hey toots, how’s tricks?” to her friend, upon seeing her. Additionally, most every time we this woman, she displays abundant amounts of cleavage. At one point, she tells a male diner customer, “My boobs are up here.”

Spiritual Lessons

As I mentioned before, it’s easy, when a situation occurs, to stand there and do nothing or even walk away. Even Henry’s mom in one scene says to him, as they witness a husband striking his wife at the grocery store, “Henry, it’s none of our business.” The first parable that came to my mind was Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:30-35 says this….

“…A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper.

‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

When we stand and do nothing in situations that require us to act, the argument becomes who else is to blame? Is it ONLY the person who commits the crime or are we, who do nothing, equally responsible. There are many Scriptures that coincide with the message of this story. Here are a couple…

“Carry each other’s burden, in that way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” –Galatians 6:2

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” —Matthew 5:16

Cinematically, “The Book of Henry” is a beautiful film from start to finish. Its rather dark, thematic material is handled respectfully.

What I can’t condone, though, is the mixed message that some will likely receive: Repay evil with evil, and murder is justified when someone deserves it.” I do not recommend this film.

With regards to judgment of others, I leave you with this verse:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” –Matthew 7:1-3

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Very Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Mild

How do I know what is right from wrong? Answer

Are we living in a moral Stone Age? Answer

What is goodness? What is righteousness?

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


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