Earlier this week, a colleague of mine and I had a conversation about ownership. The concept of any kind of ownership always has a personal edge that wraps whatever belongs to an individual around its intrinsic value. We weren’t talking about material possessions or anything concrete. We were talking about the ownership of words. Mine to be exact.
At this complicated time in history, in some people’s opinion, the internet has rendered the concept of word ownership obsolete. The student “cut and paste” method of creating a document plagues English teachers everywhere. Plagiarism, both accidental and intentional, creates angst and a big red “F” at the top of the paper. Maybe the English teachers are losing the battle.
Maybe 100 years from now, everything will be like a press release with the name of the author unattached, the human element gone. The words will go out motherless into a universe that can alter, refine, amend, and take them at will. We’ll be back to Shakespeare’s day when it was perfectly acceptable to borrow and steal with wild abandon, adding a passage here, clipping one there, and accepting credit blissfully for words that didn’t come from the mind and soul of the original person who penned them.
So the conversation with my colleague reminded me about “The Words,” a 2012 movie that had a big star, but a small release. Bradley Cooper plays Rory Jansen, a young man whose burning desire to break into the New York literary scene is, unfortunately, not quite matched by his talent. After spending three years writing his masterpiece, he can’t find an agent. He has as many pages of rejection letters as are in his novel. He’s tired of living in poverty, burdening his lovely young wife Dora (Zoe Saldana), and borrowing money from his recalcitrant father (J.K. Simmons).
Then fate takes one of those strange turns. When he and Dora honeymoon in Paris (on a budget), they visit a quaint little antique shop and find an old briefcase. It has character, and Dora insists on buying it as a wedding gift for Rory.
The rest of the story hinges on the manuscript he finds inside. What he determines to do with it will shape the rest of his life. It will shape the life of an old man (Jeremy Irons) who will intervene.
Rory’s story will be told through the narrative voice of successful writer Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), whose trajectory of his own literary career bears a striking resemblance to Rory’s. Where fiction begins and ends might not be clear at first.
The masterful handling of characters, direction, and plot make “The Words” an entertaining and thought-provoking film. If you missed the original theatre release, hit Amazon and stream it. You’ll have to pay, by the way, because it’s copyrighted.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.