3 Stars – Complex
The fatalistic belief that we have to live with the consequences of our choices is the theme of Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal’s debut film The Words. Teaming up to both write and direct the film, Klugman and Sternthal create a multilayered story in which the central characters are void of any hope that they can be forgiven or that repentance and restoration can heal the lies and betrayals of their past. This lack of hope creates not only depressing lives but also a depressing tale.
The complexity of the story is found in its triple layers. The first layer is the book written by author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid). Titled The Words, his book tells the story of an author, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), whose own books are modest and so no one will publish them since he is an unknown author. But when he honeymoons with his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) in Paris, he finds an old briefcase in a pawn shop and takes it back to New York. When he discovers an unpublished manuscript in it, he claims the writing as his own and becomes a literary success.
Troubled by his own lies and unable to enjoy his fame because it is not due to his own writing, Rory is approached by another author. This is the third layer of tale. This author is an old man played by Jeramy Irons. We won’t spoil what he reveals to Rory, but the pain from the choices he has made is central to the story.
Although the writers consider Rory’s deception only a “mistake,” lying breaks the moral law, just as it breaks trust with those we love, requiring confession and forgiveness. When we confess a lie in this spiritual manner, then we are not left to its fatalistic consequences but we are able to make a new beginning. It is this message that is missing from The Words and therefore leaves the story a disappointing and even depressing one.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. It is difficult to accept a world without forgiveness where new beginnings are impossible. How do you deal with your own mistakes and sins?
2. Do you think that Dora would have forgiven Rory if had told her the truth from the beginning? Why or why not?
3. The multilayered complexity of this tale leaves us wondering what is really true. Do you believe the story is Hammond’s autobiography or a work of fiction? Why?
4. As both directors and writers of this tale, do you think that Klugman and Sternthal would have benefited from some outside consultation? What would you have changed if you were on their team?