Regarding a public library

In the 1991 film Regarding Henry, directed by Mike Nichols and written by J. J. Abrams (!), a library scene takes place almost exactly halfway through the movie.

Movie plot

But first, let’s set the context. Harrison Ford plays the title role, a hot-shot and ruthless New York lawyer who is out of sync with his 12-year-old daughter, Rachel, or his wife, Sarah (played by Annette Bening). One fateful night, Henry gets shot by a kid holding up a corner store, a shot that causes brain damage. When Henry wakes up, he has to figure out how to start all over again — including the basics of movement and speech — including getting to know his family again.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

The library scene — over 10 seconds of it! — makes the trailer, at 1:45 seconds into the clip above.

Library rules

Rachel takes her father to the library, and she explains the basic rules of the library on the walk there.

Rachel: Some of them [books] you can borrow and take home, but some of them you have to read here.

HenryAnd you can’t talk loud.

RachelRight.

Books and silence — libraries in a nutshell. (Sigh.)

Library scene

The camera then pans quickly through the library, following the polished floors and atmosphere so quiet you can hear every step of every shoe and squeak of every chair. Every table is occupied, showcasing a variety of people.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Henry’s daughter hard at work in the library

Henry’s daughter is working and studying, writing in a notebooks. A stack of National Geographic magazines are on the table in-between father and daughter. (It isn’t clear if the magazines are for Henry or for his daughter.) There is also a large photography book open in front of Henry.

Henry then starts throwing wads of paper from a box of call number slips, crumpling them up, and then flicking them at his daughter. (This is the part of the scene that makes the trailer.) The sly expressions on Harrison Ford’s face make this scene a(n initially) comic one.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

What? I’m not up to anything…

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Nothing to see here…

His daughter is not so amused. She keeps saying, “Stop it!” and “Dad, I’m serious.

Henry’s mocking response? “I know. VERY.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

The library is VERY serious.

But the third time he flicks a paper wad at her, Rachel cracks a smile. But then this short scene turns serious.

Rachel: Read your book.

HenryI can’t.

Rachel:  [Realization dawning on her face] I’m sorry.

Rachel’s mother no doubt hid a lot of the details about Henry’s recovery from her daughter, including details about how he had to painstakingly learn how to speak and walk again. It never occurred to Rachel — or the audience?! — until that moment in the library that her father no longer remembered how to read.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

The moment Henry’s daughter realizes her father can’t read

This realization then leads to Henry’s daughter teaching him how to read again. This is significant because he had always put pressure on his daughter to be smart and self-reliant and grown-up; this friction had caused emotional distance between them. Henry being able to admit weakness to his daughter helps them bond again.

It’s a poignant scene. And that this discovery — that Henry can’t remember how to read — is made IN A LIBRARY makes this scene even more poignant and memorable.

Although memorable, this scene lasts less than two minutes. No librarian is visibly present in the scene. Theoretically, one of the several people in the background could be a librarian, but there is nothing obvious — like, say a prop like a book cart — to make this connect visibly clear for the audience. And no librarian is needed in this scene; rather, the focus is on the relationship between father and daughter.

Therefore, Regarding Henry lands in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries.

Library filming location

The filming locations mentioned in its IMDb page are very general — it was filmed in New York City — but luckily, an internet search turned up the “On the Set of New York” site. This site’s page for Regarding Henry reveals that the library scene was filmed at the 5th avenue branch of the New York Public Library. This turns out to the iconic central, or main, branch of the library. Kudos to director Mike Nichols for finding a way to make the library space in this scene look more cozy and warm than the usual cinematic shots of the NYPL central branch.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Interior shot for the library scene

Sources used:

Regarding Henry. (1991). Dir. Mike Nichols. Perf. Harrison Ford, Annette Bening, Rebecca Miller. Paramount Pictures.

Regarding Henry – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, 2012, Standard YouTube license.

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2 comments on “Regarding a public library

  1. popegrutch says:

    Small typo, the sentence that begins, “Rachel’s mother no doubt a lot of the details about Henry’s recovery from her daughter…” is missing a word. Likely you meant to put “hid” between “no doubt” and “a lot.”
    Also, it would have been easier to make the upper floor of the Mid-Manhattan branch look cozy in those days, before they pulled all the books out of that level and opened up the space to the right of your interior shot. That’s now a big open room. Ironically, if I recall correctly, at that time you couldn’t go in there without a student ID from a college, so the daughter would have automatically been excluded. (My friends and I used our fake “Miskatonic University” IDs to sneak in in High School – that’s the kind of geeks we were).

    • Thanks, Michael, for the tip about the missing word in that sentence. Indeed, I did mean to add the word “hid” in that sentence… and that word is no longer hidden. 😉

      And thanks for the personal insight into that (former) location in the NYPL branch! It’s so funny to think of how you used to sneak into the library! 😀

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