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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Directed by Mike Nichols
Paramount 01/91 DVD/VHS Feature Film
A number of books published in the 1990s offered a savage critique of the runaway careerism of the 1980s when so many individuals sacrificed everything to achieve financial success. The authors suggested that increasingly men and women would reject this lifestyle, a prediction that seems to be coming true. Some people today are consciously modifying, slowing down, or totally changing their careers so as to devote themselves more fully to family, community, or personal projects.
Regarding Henry deals with this important value shift in the lives of upper-middle-class professionals. Harrison Ford plays Henry, a self-centered, callous, and manipulative New York lawyer whose fast-track pursuit of money and power is halted one evening when he goes out to get cigarettes and interrupts a robbery in progress. He is shot in the head and chest and suffers brain damage.
This close encounter with death leaves Henry unable to walk, talk, or remember who he is. He does not recognize his wife (Annette Benning), daughter (Mikki Allen), or former colleagues. The road to recovery involves intensive therapy.
But this catastrophe sets Henry on a new path, a deeply spiritual one. The catalyst for the renewal is Bradley (Bill Nunn), a physical therapist whose joie de vivre lifts Henry's spirits and gives him the confidence he needs to live simply but honorably.
Director Mike Nichols does a fine job orchestrating Henry's spiritual transformation as he discovers new meaning and purpose in his life. The workaholic, who has never been present in his 12-year-old daughter's life, is now there to share the significant moments. The husband, who let the love drain out of his marriage, rediscovers what brought him and his wife together in the beginning. And the lawyer, who violated the ethics of his profession, has an opportunity to right a past wrong.
Regarding Henry is a wake-up-and-smell-the-roses film that helps us to pay attention to the marvels in our lives. It also pats us on the back and says, don't give up. It's never too late to change.
A Teaching Scene from Regarding Henry directed by Mike Nichols
In a lecture given at the New York Public Library, novelist Frederick Buechner noted: "A saint is a life-giver. A saint is a human being with the same hang-ups and dark secrets and abysses as the rest of us. But if a saint touches your life, you come alive in a new way."
In Regarding Henry, Bradley is a saint. He is a physical therapist who helps usher Henry back into an active life after he is paralyzed and loses his memory after suffering brain damage from a gunshot wound. But when this once career-obsessed lawyer tries to assume his old routine, he has trouble coping. He tells his friend, "I thought I could go back to my life. But I don't like who I was back then."
Bradley replies with a story from his life. He was a star college football player looking forward to a professional career until he was tackled during a game and felt his knees pop. He knew his career was over:
"It was a test. I had to find a life. The therapist who helped me walk again he was so cool. I thought that's what I want to do. When I told some of my buddies, they laughed right in my face . . .
"Check it out, you're walkin', you're talkin'. I had something to do with that. If it weren't for my knees I never would have met you. So I don't mind having bad knees.
"Let me tell you something, Hank. Don't listen to nobody trying to tell you who you are. It might take a while but you'll figure yourself out."
Thanks to Bradley, the life-giver, Henry eventually does figure out who he wants to be and what he must do. Thanks to the moral mentorship of this physical therapist, Henry is able to come alive in a new way or, in biblical terms, to be born again.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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A discussion guide by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat is available for this movie. See the Values & Visions Guide.