Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photo: Focus Features

Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot points we can’t reveal in our review.

It’s doubtful that anyone going into The Book Of Henry expects the movie to execute a Psycho-style rug-pull—that is, to kill off its title character and apparent protagonist in the first 30 or so minutes. But no, whiz kid Henry abruptly succumbs to an undiagnosed brain tumor, leaving his mom, Susan, to discover the notebooks and cassette tapes that detail the crimes of Mr. Sickleman, their next-door neighbor, as well as Henry’s attempts to have them investigated and his plan to kill the man by shooting him with a sniper rifle from the tree fort. There is a lot of potential to this twist—like say, the reaction that a real human parent might have to discovering that the 11-year-old whose death they are still grieving was plotting to murder someone—but The Book Of Henry handles the transfer of point of view so blithely that his death ends up having no bearing on the plot. The reams of written and tape-recorded instructions left behind by this boy judge, jury, and would-be executioner cutely anticipate Susan’s every move. (“Turn right… no, your other right.”)


Why does she try to go through with it? Is it the alienated numbness of grief? Or a dark subversion of that need to hold on to any tangible link to those we lose, regardless of how preposterous? Who knows, because despite the best efforts of Naomi Watts, Susan’s psychology remains out of focus. The movie’s disease is extreme narrative over-determination: Not only is Henry’s death ultimately irrelevant, but so is Susan’s last-second decision to confront Sickleman (in a scene that bears only trace similarities to human behavior) instead of shooting him in the head, as he ends up doing the deed himself. Suicide, the PG-13 version of a Disney villain death. Had Henry lived, done the work of forging Sickleman’s will himself, and completed the deed, almost everything would be the same. But then, that would have actually taken some cojones.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter