Regarding Henry (1991)

In Regarding Henry, the title character (Harrison Ford) is a partner in a law firm. He is arrogant, ruthless, and demanding, as unpleasant at work as he is at home. Then he gets shot in the head during a holdup, and after a little therapy, becomes a really sweet, loving family man who realizes that when he was a lawyer he did things that were wrong.

This is not realistic. My guess is that if brain damage caused a personality change, it would more likely be for the worse. But stranger things have happened, so I suppose the combination of a bullet in the head and lack of oxygen could destroy the part of the brain that makes a man a jerk. The question is, regardless of how likely or unlikely such an event may be, why pick this particular scenario to base a movie on?

The head and the heart are the two major components of a man’s personality, and the question that has occurred to people over the years is, Which of the two is more important? Of course, it is not as though intelligence and a pleasant disposition are mutually exclusive, and that if you have one, you cannot have the other. There are doubtless many geniuses that are kind and loving, just as there are simpletons that are mean and cruel. But if you had to choose, which of the two would you want more of?

Movies often say that the heart is more important than the head. In A Chump at Oxford (1940), Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy find themselves at Oxford, where a bump on the head restores the intellect and character of the man Stan used to be, Lord Paddington, brilliant scholar and athlete. He is also arrogant and condescending, treating Ollie with contempt. Another bump on the head, however, turns Stan back into the good-natured simpleton that we are familiar with, much to Ollie’s delight. A couple of other movies that champion the heart over the head are Harvey (1950) and Forest Gump (1994).

On the other hand, if a man is a genius, a certain amount of unlikable personality traits will be tolerated. Sherlock Holmes, for instance, is often portrayed as austere and aloof. In Flight of the Phoenix (1965), Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger) does not suffer fools gladly, but we suffer him gladly because he is so brilliant. And the eponymous character in the television show House (2004-2012) is often shown to be rude and obnoxious, but all is forgiven because we thrill at watching a superior intellect at work. Furthermore, we vicariously enjoy the arrogance of these characters, since we ourselves often chafe at having to be so darn humble and polite.

Needless to say, Regarding Henry comes down on the side of the heart. But as I said, I don’t think it is very realistic. A more likely outcome would be that a man like Henry would still be the same obnoxious person he was before, only less able to express himself.

This is not helped by the fact that the matter of their finances is never really addressed. Henry’s daughter Rachel (Kamian Allen) asks her mother Sarah (Annette Bening) if they are going to be poor, for which Sarah has no good answer. The advice she gets from a friend is not to tell anyone about the dire nature of their finances, but to go out with some friends and spend lots of money, as if keeping up appearances is the solution to Sarah’s problems. Sarah does have a job, they do find a less expensive place to live, and they eventually pull Rachel out of a private school, although the movie would have us believe that it is for emotional reasons rather than financial ones. In short, we do not have enough specifics to draw any definite conclusions about their finances, but I would have expected more drastic cutbacks in expenditures than that. So, when Henry resigns from his law firm, the sense of financial doom still seems to be hanging over them, even if the movie seems to be in denial about that.

The point is that our credulity is already strained by the premise that an obnoxious man would be transformed by brain damage into a wonderful person. The additional unreality of their financial situation pushes our ability to suspend disbelief just a bit too far.

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