Don't Let Colin Trevorrow Gaslight you Into Thinking 'Book Of Henry' Is Anything But Garbage
With a hit or VERY miss filmography and some problematic quotes to his credit, director Colin Trevorrow has become the reluctant poster boy of White Male Mediocrity in Hollywood. In just six years, his career has hit dizzying highs and crushing lows. But as co-writer and executive producer on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, he’s back in the spotlight and trying to save his faltering reputation by rewriting his history. And we’re not buying it.
As a refresher: The well-received sci-fi indie Safety Not Guaranteed scored Trevorrow an invite to the big leagues, helming the resurrection of the Jurassic Park franchise with 2015’s Jurassic World. Thought it made bank, critics called Jurassic World out for misogyny, citing those damn high heels and the movie’s most violent scene where a young woman is brutally killed by rampaging carnivorous dinosaurs. Trevorrow did not help matters by telling Empire that she “earned” her death “because she was a bridezilla.”
That summer Trevorrow became a popular example of white male directors who seem to get greater opportunities out of a single indie hit than filmmakers who are female and/or people of color. He made matters worse by taking to Twitter to speak on behalf of all women to proclaim women don’t direct big-budget studio movies because they don’t want to. (For more on this check out friend of Pajiba’s Angie Han’s piece on Slashfilm. Trevorrow did.)
Nonetheless, Trevorrow was on track to become a major blockbuster director, hired to helm Star Wars: Episode IX. But ahead of that production, he made a small-budget thriller called The Book of Henry, which was so loathed by critics (this one included) that it sparked concerns about whether Trevorrow could be trusted with a franchise as beloved as Star Wars. After several months of Book of Henry bashing, Trevorrow was fired from Star Wars: Episode IX. But that may have less to do with his flopped film and more to do with the director being “difficult.”
But don’t cry for Trevorrow. He’ll return to the director’s chair for Jurassic World 3. Ahead of that, he’s trying to answer for his missteps with no holds barred interviews, like the one he gave Uproxx’s Mike Ryan. To Trevorrow’s credit, he confessed that speaking for all female directors was “a huge mistake,” adding, “I’m really sorry for it.” He also noted that experience made him more aware of the challenges women in Hollywood face, and more engaged on making an effort to work with them. Props for progress and growth!
Less great was when talk turned to The Book of Henry. “I made a film about holding predatory men in positions of power accountable for assault,” Trevorrow said, “And that is an uncomfortable subject to talk about. But we are talking about it now and we’re listening and I hope the negative response won’t deter other filmmakers from telling these stories, because we need to hear them, both in life and in art.”
Basically, Trevorrow would have you believe he made a Me Too movie ahead of the Me Too movement. The other bold comment came on Twitter, where he claimed The Book of Henry was a carbon copy of Star Wars: A New Hope.
Someday we’ll get drunk and I’ll lay out how that movie is a carbon copy of A New Hope. My favorite bar trick for fellow story nerds.— Colin Trevorrow (@colintrevorrow) April 24, 2018
In an interview with Slashfilm, he expounded on this theory, saying:
“It’s a foundational myth. It’s a noble ghost story. Where a character lives on after death in order to guide a hero to find their strength and defeat ultimate evil. And structurally, I can’t…but you’re gonna print this, unfortunately. I’m saying this now. But the way that I look at movies, I do see Avatar and Titanic and Jurassic World [as] very similar movies. Henry was Obi-Wan Kenobi. And he died in the middle. And he left a set of instructions on how to take out the Death Star where Darth Vader was holding a Princess captive. And at the very end, when he had the target in his sights, he had to remember his training. Guided by this ghostly voice. And then Han Solo comes in with the Rube Goldberg machine and gives him the moment. And ultimately the Princess saves herself.”
This comment threw the Pajiba Slack into a frenzy of frustration for a lot of reasons. First, from the Star Wars savvy contingent, Genevieve Burgess said, “Colin Trevorrow hasn’t actually seen Star Wars. Glad they found that out before he directed one. Like, that sounds like the description of Star Wars someone would come up with if they’d only absorbed second-hand information about the movies and never actually watched one. Han Solo doesn’t have a ‘Rube Goldberg machine’ at any point. Obi-Wan didn’t leave instructions to take out the Death Star. Leia is a captive IN THE VERY BEGINNING, but they rescue her well before the run to actually destroy the Death Star.”
TK Burton added, “Obi-Wan’s ‘instructions’ were basically ‘use the Force’ which is less a set of instructions and more just his repeated mantra.” To which Genevieve noted, “Right, the instructions on how to destroy the Death Star actually came directly from Leia.” And Tori Preston pointed out that those plans came from Rogue One’s Jyn Erso, “There’s literally a whole movie about how those plans were stolen, and Obi-Wan ain’t a part of any of it.”
So, let’s all be glad Trevorrow has Episode IX taken away from him, because in the elegant, mocking, and accurate words of Genevieve: “COLIN TREVORROW IS A FAKE STAR WARS FAN, FAKE GEEK BOY.”
Now, as the only Overlord who subjected herself to The Book of Henry, I’d like to discuss the other severe flaws in his defense of this absolute trash fire of a movie. First off, the basic plot is that a genius boy named Henry notices the girl next door is being abused by her cop father, so he plots to have his mom murder the man. Plot twist: Henry dies halfway through the movie, but leaves behind a book and audio tapes to guide his mother through every step of the plan. Yes, this movie has a predatory man in a position of power. But the hero of the movie is abusive too! Something of which, Trevorrow seems utterly unaware.
In my review of The Book of Henry, I explained how the central relationship of mother-son is one which the genius boy is condemning and controlling of his mom, gaslighting her to murder.
Henry behaves not as Susan’s child, but as her partner, and a frustrated one at that. He lectures her on parenting. He believes he knows best. He pays the bills. He’s made them rich with his investments on the stock market. So why can’t she just do as he says? Buy a new car? Stop working at her humble waitress job? Sure, you could argue Henry just wants his mother to have the financial comfort and nice things. But then you see how Henry tries to wedge himself between her and her only friend (Sarah Silverman), and it reads as something more nefarious. Like abusers do, Henry is undermining Susan’s independence and isolating her from the outside world.
As to Trevorrow’s confounding Star Wars comparison, it sounds like Trevorrow hasn’t even watched his own movie. Regarding this “guided by a ghostly voice” business, in the finale—requisite spoiler warning for The Book of Henry—when his mom is JUST ABOUT to shoot the abusive cop dad, she chooses not to listen to Henry’s very firm directions to murder a man without due process or even consulting the daughter to see what she wants. Instead, his cupcake-icing Rube Goldberg device reminds her Henry is a child and there are maybe better, less batshit bonkers ways to deal with this situation. And as for the princess rescuing herself, the abused girl does a dance so beautiful at the school talent show that the principal realizes she’s been abused. (Yes, really.) So the cops are called, having nothing at all to do with Henry or his mom. And then cop dad shoots himself to avoid arrest. The end.
Look, Trevorrow deserves props that he’s opened his eyes to the struggles that filmmakers who aren’t white and male face in getting their pitches heard and movies made. But when he tries to act like this movie was ahead of its time, misunderstood, unfairly maligned or somehow even remotely feminist, I have zero patience. The Book of Henry is not only wildly incompetent and lacking any sense of emotional intelligence, it’s grossly sexist, treating its female lead as an absolute fool in need of endless guidance by her young son (or the hot brain surgeon he chooses to replace him), while its female victim is a pretty prop for suffering silently, her pain a form of ghoulish spectacle. Trevorrow may be growing as an ally in the wake of his own brushes with unwokeness and Me Too. Whether that growth will be reflected in his filmmaking remains to be seen. But considering this gaslighting attempt, I’m not especially optimistic about Jurassic World 3.