As if Inception wasn’t confusing enough, newbie directors Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman bring us The Words, a narrative within a narrative within a narrative.
A nice enough movie about the repercussions of stealing another writer’s work and publishing it under one’s own name, The Words left me wanting more…words. Not only is this film quite vague about the identity of its main (?) character, it cries for a bigger conflict and ends with unanswered questions and a confusing ending. Is it ironic that a movie titled The Words should be lacking in just that?
The movie starts with Dennis Quaid’s character, an author giving a reading of his new book at a library. This scene is short-lived, because when he starts reading, his words fade out and we are then thrust into the world of his creation and Bradley Cooper’s character, Rory. Rory is also an author, though a struggling one. He lives a typical writer’s life in the city: living in a small, cramped apartment with his soon-to-be wife, finally breaking down and getting a real job as the mail guy in a publishing house, writing til all hours of the night, procrastinating, and battling with his own worth in the world as he struggles to fulfill his dream.
This conflict was introduced early on, and I had high hopes for the rest of the storyline. However, when he and his wife honeymoon in Paris and he finds an old manuscript in a briefcase in some Ernest Hemingway exhibit, and then he later decides to publish this manuscript under his own name, the conflict kind of just falls apart. The guy who actually wrote that manuscript just so happens to be living in the same city as Rory, and approaches him with his story about how he actually came to write the book. So we’re launched into the life of this new guy, the real author, which takes up a good chunk of the movie. Like I said, a narrative within a narrative within a narrative. But other than making the real-author upset, we really don’t see any repercussions for Cooper’s actions and the high point we were all hoping for never really comes. And just like Inception, we go back through the different levels now and again and eventually we learn (or at least we are led to believe) that Bradley Cooper is actually Dennis Quaid (or is he?) and the whole movie ends with Olivia Wilde asking if Quaid wants to live life or fiction. So…okay, so what happened?
What it lacks in stimulating and sense-making story structure, it makes up for in everything else. ‘A’ list cast members like Dennis Quaid, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde, etc., really live up to their reputation in this wonderfully acted film. The sets and cinematography were gorgeous, and I must applaud Marcelo Zarvos for creating such a fitting and beautiful accompanying soundtrack. I do appreciate the artistic vibe to this movie (I’m all about films that make you question), but I think it could have benefited from focusing on one character (or two characters, depending on if you think Bradley Cooper is Dennis Quaid) instead of three.
Also, I suppose there’s a lot more Ernest Hemingway references in this movie than I had first realized. But upon some research, I found that in addition to one of the characters reading The Sun Also Rises and Cooper visiting a Hemingway exhibit, the real-author-of-the-manuscript character’s wife lost his book on a train, which apparently is how Hemingway lost a lot of his early work. Be Hemingway knowledgeable if you’re going to watch this movie.
Ultimately, I think this movie was well-shot and a joy to watch. The questions it poses are extremely relevant to writers and resonated with me quite deeply. After watching this movie, all I could ask myself was, “If I found a work of genius manuscript with no name and no one to claim it, and I had been struggling to live and struggling to be heard in the literary world, would I publish it under my name?”
(See the trailer below)