PARK CITY, Utah -- The extended cut of director Mark Pellington's music video for Keane's "Everybody's Changing" opens with Pellington talking about his wife, Jennifer, who died at age 42. "I lost my soul mate, the mother of my child, my best friend," Pellington says.
If the director's music video -- which includes several tearful interviews with the relatives of people who died in middle age, and shots of Pellington's sobbing uncontrollably -- provides a glimpse at how consuming mourning can be, then his Sundance movie "Henry Poole Is Here," premiering tonight, offers a look at how someone can eventually move past grief.
Although Pellington has distinguished himself with an array of genre films -- the thriller "The Mothman Prophecies," the terrorist drama "Arlington Road" and the sexual satire "Going All the Way" -- he had not made anything that even he considered deeply personal.
As he struggled to get back on his feet and raise his daughter, then 2, after his wife died in 2004 from toxemia and sepsis after a ruptured colon, Pellington first let go of a movie he was scheduled to direct ("Firewall" with Harrison Ford). "I couldn't get out of bed, let alone direct a movie," he says. Then, after a long recovery and numerous meetings with bereavement groups, he started reexamining screenplays he had earlier considered making, looking for more humanistic stories.
"My personal experience," he says, "had changed me."
Albert Torres' "Henry Poole" script almost pushed itself to the top of the stack. Not long into Torres' story, we learn that its titular, thirtysomething character (played by Luke Wilson) has received a grim medical diagnosis. Determined to spend what he believes are his last days alone, he moves back to the his hometown, where he grew up. But his planned seclusion in La Mirada is disrupted by several neighbors, including the mysterious daughter of a single mom (Radha Mitchell) and a churchgoer ("Babel's" Adriana Barraza) who believes she sees a miracle in the stucco of Poole's rented home.
At one point, a grocery store clerk says to Poole, "Sometimes you have to be sad to remind yourself you're alive. It's better than feeling nothing, right?"
The same can be said of Pellington himself, who found in his loss a new determination and way of seeing the world through film. "The movie was about somebody looking for light -- it had hope -- and that was something I was searching for in my own life," the 45-year-old filmmaker says. "It's about power and gratitude and fate, but it transcends religion."
Pellington considered making the movie (formerly known as "Stain") with Jim Carrey in the starring role, and Matt Dillon and Ben Stiller flirted with the part. But Pellington gravitated toward Wilson after seeing him in "The Family Stone." The film was financed by Lakeshore Entertainment, which has made all of Pellington's earlier movies. "Henry Poole" arrives in Park City looking for a distribution deal. (Pellington also shares a directing credit on the concert movie "U2 3D," which is showing at the festival.)
The questions Pellington asked himself after his wife's death -- "Why me? Why anyone?" -- do not so much appear in "Henry Poole" as they do inform its back story. "I was feeling more hope; I was climbing out of a hole," Pellington says of his state of mind when he directed the film last year.
"If I had made the movie three years ago, it would have been much darker. But this movie is very earnest and very sincere. And it's not afraid to be that way."
In some ways, "Henry Poole" is a movie about letting go. "We have control over certain actions, but the greatest control is to ultimately to have no control -- to let go," Pellington says.
And as he has let go and made "Henry Poole," the devastated husband and father from Pellington's Keane music video has been replaced by a smiling, optimistic man who may still mourn but no longer, he says, grieves.
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL