The Book of Henry
by director Colin Trevorrow
On first read, I was surprised that The Book of Henry wasn’t based on an actual book. It didn’t adhere to the rules of cinematic storytelling. The perspective shifts from one character to another in the middle. The structure was bold and unpredictable in a way that mirrors our experience. Life has no genre. Circumstances change, sometimes violently, and alter the tone—from comedy to tragedy, from safety to fear. It grabbed hold of me and never let go.
As a parent of two, it was a difficult film to make. All of us were forced to confront issues that we’d just as soon never think about. Naomi Watts faced her own worst fears as a mother. Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay and Maddie Ziegler looked the darkest aspects of childhood in the eye. All the actors helped each other, like a true family. Having lived with the film for some time, I still find their performances deeply moving.
Gregg Hurwitz’s screenplay captured the ethical clarity of childhood in such an unexpected and emotional way. I’m interested in why so many members of my generation have remained children by choice. We’re just kids walking around in these giant bodies, doing adult things when all we really want to do is play with our toys. It’s an easy generational quirk to make fun of, but it’s not hard to understand. We’ve all felt that need to go back to a simpler time when there was a clear sense of right and wrong, before the complexity and horror of the world came into focus. Henry is all of us.
Ultimately, this is a film about the power of community. Susan Carpenter (played by Naomi Watts) has to fight against the natural human instinct to use violence to right a horrible wrong. With the help of her friends, teachers and her own children, she manages to keep her compass in an angry world. In times like these, that’s a victory.