A film about plagiarism, a life lived in the shadow of sin, worlds within worlds (or should that be, words within words?)… how could I not be looking forward to watching this film? (Anticipation is nearly always a prelude to disappointment…) Anyway, I finally saw it last week, and my verdict is:
Not bad at all. Not brilliant, but not a bad effort.
It just goes to show that every fairytale needs a good-old-fashioned villain… Wait, I mean * shakes head to remove Sherlock influence and tries again * It just goes to show that at the heart of every good film is a good story. This may be stating the obvious, but there is something to be said for the simple yet powerful act of story-telling. Not trying to be clever or flashy, but just a bloke standing up and saying, in effect, “Let me tell you a story.” This is pretty much what Dennis Quaid’s character does, and it’s really effective.
And the story he tells is a good one, in that it draws you in. The theme of his novel, ‘The Words’, is about how the main character, Rory, plagiarizes another man’s book. Plagiarism is very bad, and as a fledgling wannabee author, I can’t imagine nicking someone’s stuff and passing it off as my own – the very idea gives me the heebygeebies – how can you accept people’s praise for something you didn’t do?
But the film deals with this – firstly, Rory is a pretty good writer to begin with. His first novel is a thing of beauty and a joy forever (to plagiarizes Keats). So we know he’s got talent, it’s just a real shame that his book won’t get published cause of the politics and financial risk/gain involved in the world of publishing. If you’re not a ‘brand’ then I guess people don’t want to take a risk on an unknown writer.
But instead of persevering (didn’t JK Rowling’s Harry Potter get rejected like 40-odd times before someone accepted it?), Rory comes across a manuscript, ‘The Window Tears’, hidden in an old satchel and decides to pass the words off as his. His wife gives him the green light by saying she always knew he had these words inside of him… so Rory thinks – if he has the ability to write these words, then why not claim them as his own? The jumps he makes to justifying the act are subtle, but the film takes the audience with Rory as he makes these little decisions that lead to him publishing the book under his own name.
Enter an old man, played by Jeremy Irons, who, as it turns out, is the actual author of ‘The Window Tears’. He proceeds to tell Rory how he came to write these words – and then we get our third ‘story’ of the film – the old man’s life story, how he married his sweetheart, lived an idyllic life in Paris with their child, attempting to write (he has Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises on his bookshelf – foreshadowing…) , and then the loss of this child that prompts him to write the manuscript that his wife later left in a satchel on a train (and a nod to Hemmingway – apparently his wife did the same thing).
The old man is a good character. He explains that it was only by living through the love and the loss that the words came about. Sometimes when I am interviewing myself (does anyone else ever do this?), one of the questions I ask is – “Which book do you wish you had written?” And yet this is a tricky question to answer, because in writing the book, you also have to experience what that author went through. So if I wish I’d written The Shining, then that would mean I’d have to live through alcoholism and drug abuse. If it’s one of the Bronte novels then I would have to live their lives too – and man those girls had hard lives! So I totally get where this old guy is coming from. He doesn’t want money or fame, he just wants to enlighten Rory and show him the life that he is claiming for his own.
And even though the old man remains anonymous, there is still justice and Rory is punished – because, as the old guy explains to him, this act of plagiarism means that now Rory has robbed himself of the chance to see if he too was capable of writing such a novel – or perhaps even one better. Which, for a writer, is a HUGE deal. Rory has basically terminated his writing career by choosing to publish this novel, and so, in effect, he has terminated his life, with all his hopes and dreams and joys of creating something spectacular.
The film ending is very interesting – so Dennis Quaid’s novel ‘The Words’ is about a character called Rory who plaguerises another man’s manuscript and calls it ‘The Window Tears’.
But actually, as it turns out, ‘The Words’ is autobiographical. Dennis Quaid is Rory. He’s the one that nicked the old guy’s novel, became an overnight success and in doing so, lost his wife and his soul. Dennis Quaid ends the novel with Rory and his wife lying next to each other, his wife reassuring him that she still loves him and that everything will be fine…But this is wishful thinking on Dennis Quaid’s part, because his marriage has failed and even when he starts to kiss the girl, he flashes to his/Rory’s wife. The girl comments, “You never let her go.”
Which leads me to think that in writing ‘The Words’, this is Dennis Quaid’s act of atonement, and yet in altering the ending of his author-avatar Rory, he is choosing to live the lie of fiction and create himself a happy ending. Yet it seems he’s punishing himself too by refusing to hook up with the girl. Redemption is offered him, yet he turns it down.
Whoa. Brain freeze!
The girl who tries to seduce Dennis Quaid and read his novel seemed a bit strange. I was half-expecting her to be a secret agent, out to win his confidence and then nick off with his book for her own nefarious purposes… Her motives seemed ambiguous, and her character seemed like more of a crutch for Dennis Quaid to unleash a lot of exposition. I think a better-realised, fully-formed, more believable character would have done nicely here.
The girl playing the French character wasn’t great. She did a good job of sobbing after the couple lose the baby, but except for that scene, my goldfish show more emotion than she did. Ben Barnes, the guy playing her husband, wasn’t much better. They were both nice to look at, but they let the side down with regards to the acting abilities.
But apart from these little nitpicks, I think ‘The Words’ was a good film. Bradley Cooper did a good job as Rory – I despised him yet I pitied him at the same time. Dennis Quaid seemed to be a man truly weighed down by his life.
Actually, this quote sums him up nicely:
“In my culture, we believe that when you die your spirit has to climb a mountain, carrying the souls of everyone you wronged in your lifetime. Imagine the weight I will have to lift.”
(The above quote was from ‘A Town called Mercy’, a very good Doctor Who episode. Gotta give credit where credit’s due).
Verdict: Guilt and the possibility of redemption is always interesting when done properly. A pretty decent film, and therefore, not rubbish.