"To be a traveler on this earth you must know how to die and come back to life."
Regarding Henry is about an aggressive, successful, and amoral New York lawyer whose life is upended when he is shot in the head by a thief during a robbery. As he recovers, he has to relearn and refashion what he does at home and at work. For our review of the film and a plot synopsis, click here.
Henry's journey is essentially a spiritual one as he seeks new sources of meaning and purpose. His vulnerability opens him up to the positive values of love, play, intimacy, tenderness, and conscience that were all absent in his existence as a go-for-the-jugular lawyer.
The screenplay by Jeffrey Abrams focuses on the process of personal transformation. Director Mike Nichols, who was interested in this theme, has written: "For all the searching for happiness that we do, we tend not to notice that sometimes it is a catastrophe which re-orders our lives in wonderful ways. There's something about cutting loose everything and starting again that somehow tells you the most about what life really is especially family life." The questions in this Values & Visions Guide are designed to spur your reflection and discussion on the kind of spiritual transformation that can grow out of personal catastrophe.
Regarding Henry runs 108 minutes and is PG-13.
1. KEEPING THE HEART OPEN
"Mostly heartfelt practice is about keeping the heart open to the world around us to people, places, ourselves, and the divine. It means coming from a place of empathetic attunement," Belleruth Naparstek writes in Your Sixth Sense.
- What do you learn about Henry's character and values in the opening scenes when we see him at work, at home, and at a party?
- What spiritual practices have you used to keep your heart open to the world around you?
"The desire for intimacy is the desire to share that which is innermost with another person. It is a fundamental psychological need in human lives, one of the few basic needs that organize our behavior and experience and provide our lives with meaning," Dan P. McAdams explains in Intimacy: The Need to Be Close.
- What is missing in the marital relationship between Henry and Sarah before he is shot? How do they relate to each other after the accident and as he recovers?
- Which of their acts of intimacy do you find most appealing? What have you done recently to deepen and enrich the quality of intimacy in your life?
3. LEARNING FROM CHILDREN THAT LIFE IS PLAY AND A JOY
"Jesus said, 'You can't enter the kingdom of heaven except as a child.' How silly. All children do is play. . . . They don't understand how serious the business of life is. Ah, the business of life. But life isn't a business, is it? It doesn't have a profit-and-loss sheet, a bottom line. Life is given to us as play. Little children understand that," John Robert McFarland has written.
- How would you describe Henry's relationship with his daughter Rachel? How does she influence him to come home from the rehabilitation center?
- In what scenes is Henry most playful?
- Give an example from your life when a child has tutored you in a spiritual act, such as savoring small things or living in delight.
4. LIFE-GIVING SAINTS
"A saint," according to Frederick Buechner, "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."
- What is there about Bradley that leads Henry to establish such a close bond with him? Discuss the significance of Bradley's account about what led him to become a physical therapist.
- Would you call Bradley a saint in Henry's life? Who has touched your life enabling you to "come alive in a new way"?
5. DO GOOD WORK
"Good work that leaves the world softer and fuller and better than ever before is the stuff of which human satisfaction and spiritual value are made," Joan Chittister writes in Wisdom Distilled from the Daily.
- What is the difference between the old and the new Henry in terms of his attitudes towards work? What does he mean when he tells Bradley that he "doesn't fit in anymore"?
- How do you respond to those who state, "The question is no longer 'what do I do' but 'who am I' "?
- Henry tries to leave "the world softer and fuller and better" by righting an old wrong. What good work have you done recently?
"Remember that your family has a potential for resilience and growth energized by its problems, and by the way in which your family learns to give meaning to its problems. Problems are family soul food," Paul Pearsall observes in The Power of the Family.
- What is the significance of Henry and Sarah pulling Rachel out of the posh boarding school? How does the quality of their life together as a family change over time?
- What sacrifices would you be willing to make to improve the quality of your family life? Do you see problems as "family soul food"? Give an example.
7. A GROUNDED SPIRITUALITY
"We need to realize that the purpose of being here is not to conquer and control, but to serve something larger than ourselves," John Welwood writes in Ordinary Magic. "To that end, we need to develop a grounded spirituality, one that can affect the quality of life through being committed to the here-and-now."
- Sum up the changes that Henry goes through especially as they relate to the habits of the heart. What spiritual moves does he make over the course of the story?
- Is your spirituality grounded in the here-and-now? In what ways do you try to serve something larger than yourself?
This guide is one in a series of more than 200 Values & Visions Guides written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Text copyright 2001 by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures. This guide is posted as a service to visitors to www.SpiritualityandPractice.com. It may not be photocopied, reprinted, or distributed electronically without permission from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat except it may be duplicated for use by groups participating in the e-course "Going to the Movies as a Spiritual Practice." For other uses and for a list of guides in the Values & Visions series and ordering information, email your name and mailing address to: firstname.lastname@example.org.