Among the films starring Harrison Ford- best known for his roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones – Regarding Henry (1991) is possibly one of his least well-known films. Directed by Mike Nichols and written by a young J.J. Abrams – later famous for producing Alias and Lost – the movie, without great aspirations, offers interesting points to comment on and reflect.
The film tells the story of Henry Turner, a successful Manhattan lawyer who, due to an accident, rediscovers the meaning of his life. The first part of the film presents a work-obsessed and success-driven Henry: cold, intelligent and calculating…successful in an impersonal and superficial world that appears full of emptiness. He himself is – and treats others, including his wife and daughter – like an object among objects. Henry’s interior blindness manifests itself in small actions that easily pass unnoticed, while on the other hand, the sad and vain fascination he has with success is blatant.
Everything changes when, caught in a shop robbery, he is shot in the head. He awakes from a comma a few weeks later to discover that he has lost not only a great part of his physical capabilities, but also his memory. Here we find one of the most fascinating points of the film: Henry must learn many things from scratch. His experience, as he recovers little by little, is like that of a child that discovers and is surprised by the simple things. In this way, the film reminds us of the profound distinction between child and adult, masterfully painted by Saint-Exupery in ‘The Little Prince’.
It is interesting to note how Henry’s new simplicity contrasts with the world of superficiality and desires that surrounds him, and we never cease to be amazed by the attitudes of those in his old circle of friends. It is not a long time before the new vision that Henry has of the world brings him to deeply question the values that gave meaning or, better said, no meaning, to his friendships. As can often happen when one has questions, his old acquaintances turn against him, talking about him behind his back and leaving him aside.
A key character in the story is Bradley, the nurse who helps Henry in his rehabilitation. If the once successful lawyer looked with disdain and indifference at those who served him, he now recognizes a friend in Bradley. Bradley helps Henry to walk again – in the deepest sense of the word- and is indispensable for his recovery. Bradley won’t help without demanding an effort from Henry, and above all, demanding that he trust in himself and those who want to help him. Bradley also knows when to let Henry walk on his own, without creating unnecessary dependence that can cloud an authentic relationship.
Henry’s growth and maturity lead him, inevitably, to discover and to meet his past. The crisis is unavoidable, not only at discovering the vanity in the things he had valued and trusted, but even more due to discovering the selfishness, spiritual misery and egotism that had choked his existence and corroded his relationship with his family.
Here, the film offers a foreseeable ending, but not devoid of beauty and meaning. Henry’s crisis and meeting with his past are a chance to accept his acts and to forgive – above all – himself. Overcoming selfishness, egotism, his thinking himself the absolute centre of reality, gives way to new and more fulfilled relationships with his wife, his daughter, and those around him.
Regarding Henry offers an interesting opportunity to remind us that we can always re-discover what is essential in our lives, encouraging us to see reality as children, but not naively. It reminds us also of the need to question those points that, as we move forward in life, we consider a requirement for our happiness, when in reality, they are not so. Faced with extreme situations, as occurs in this story, what is truly valuable usually appears more clearly. The transformation into a better person, as is the case of the main character in the film, can be an opportunity for a positive change in those around, and this is also a lovely message of the film.