The Words, a film released in 2012, written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, starring Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons and Olivia Wilde, is a MUST SEE for writers. Stumbling upon it last night, it was the preview that first captured my attention. I’d never heard of it, though I am a fan of the whole cast.
A multi-layered film, that has one thinking throughout, this film takes you on the journey of three writers who all have a connection. At the center is young, romantic, dreamer Rory Jansen, played by Cooper, who longs to have his work published and will stop at nothing to do so– even if it means stealing someone else’s words. As a viewer and writer, I am moved by Rory’s plight, a character who pours his heart out on the page only to seek rejection after rejection. Longing to live out his dream, Rory is caught up in a web he can’t get out of and has to chose between truth, love, and the career he’s always wanted.
The Old Man, played by Irons, confronts Rory because his words are those he stole, but the Old Man doesn’t want anything other than to let Rory know that HE knows his claim to fame– his great American Novel– isn’t his at all. The Old Man recounts how he came about telling the story– one derived from his own experience, including great love, pain and suffering as a young man. Spending only two weeks on an emotional outpouring, he describes the experience of writing his novel as the words pouring onto the pages from a place he didn’t know existed within him. His sole work becomes lost on a train somewhere in France. Iron’s characters loses his love, his child, and his work. Every one who’s ever written can feel the sense of loss Iron’s character must have experienced– to write something good, great even, to have your words captured on the page only to be lost in the abyss must be a paralyzing experience for any writer. I found myself connecting with his description of how he wrote, within those two weeks, as if the words being typed on the page were not even his own. In those moments, one recognizes himself as a writer; it’s something that addictive, an experience you want to recapture again and again, but it doesn’t necessarily work that way. The Old Man admitted he tried to write again, but he gave up or lost his ability– he wasn’t sure.
The mature, accomplished writer, Clay Hammond, played by Quaid, opens up the film at a reading of his upcoming novel, entitled The Words, which reveals Rory and The Old Man’s story to the audience. As the primary narrator of the film, the viewer wonders what Hammond’s connection is to Rory’s story and how he knows it so intimately. Daniella, played by Wilde, a young, grad student and novice writer, demands an explanation to Rory’s story. She’s unsatisfied by Hammond’s explanation of how it all ends. Hammond gives her a host of possibilities that we, as writers, consider when crafting a story. I found myself applying this to my own novel I’m currently working on– playing out all the what ifs and imagining each one’s effect on the outcome of the story. Hammond reveals to Daniella, “At some point, you have to choose between life and fiction.” It’s a quote that resonates with me long after the film ends– the single quote in the film that ties the entire film together.
The stories we tell ourselves as writers often blur the lines between fiction and reality. For instance, with I’m in the heart of a novel, I feel what my character’s are feeling– the day’s writing absolutely affects my state of mind. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about my characters or considering the possibilities of this idea or that. I dream my novels to the point that sometimes I achieve clarity about them from my dreams. My husband if fond of telling me, “Life is not a fairy tale,” but for me it is. It’s what I do and who I am. I’ve yet to be faced with the decision of choosing between life and fiction, but it certainly overlaps my every day experience.
This film is the perfect marrying of two passions: film and writing. The film is well made, well sequenced. Of course, I prefer a non-linear, multi-layered narrative, especially when I can’t predict the connections before I’m meant to. In fact, I didn’t tie the whole of the connection of the characters together until after the film concluded. To me, that’s the mark of a good story, one in which I’m still fitting the pieces together long after it’s concluded, one that lives with me for hours after it’s over.
I’d liken this film to The Hours, an adaptation of a novel by Michael Cunningham and directed by Stephen Daldry, released in 2002, which weaves together the lives of Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown. It’s that same multi-layering that experiments with the collision of art/ writing and life moving from one woman’s life to another that finally reveals their connection at the end.
Pondering happiness, Clarissa Vaughan recounts a time in her life: “I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself: So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment.” Similarly, the Old Man, recounts in his telling of his story to Rory, his happiest moment, from which he drew upon for his novel, stating, “That was my moment. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was.” Both The Words and The Hours beg us to question our moments and the choices we make and how we decide to live with them.