As a writer, I was curious to see Bradley Cooper’s new film The Words, particularly because its story is centered on an aspiring novelist’s decision to steal another man’s work. Throughout high school and college I was threatened with failing grades or even expulsion if I were caught plagiarizing. Today, I wouldn’t receive a slap on the wrist; I’d be excommunicated from the media universe. However, every writer dreams of receiving both critical and commercial success, so the temptation to steal from a piece of work that you admire is something I can relate to.
In The Words, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) is a writer struggling to make end’s meet while trying not to give up his aspirations. While vacationing in France, with his wife Dora (Zoe Zaldana), Rory stumbles upon an old briefcase. Rory soon discovers a manuscript hidden in the briefcase. Plagued by self-doubt, Rory passes the story off as his own. He soon becomes the literary world’s golden boy, booking standing room only readings, earning prestigious awards, and upgrading his lifestyle. One day he meets an old man (Jeremy Irons) who reveals that he’s the true author.
Like a novel, the film is split into two parts, with another storyline interspersed. The old man’s story was by far my favorite, because it was the only one that made me feel sympathetic. Here was a man that dealt with personal struggles, and for him, writing about them made the difference between life and death. Jeremy Irons gives the best performance of the film. His coarse voice echoes the disdain he has for Rory. His disdain didn’t evolve from Rory’s recklessness, but that he fooled people into thinking that a man who has never faced real devastation could write a novel like this.
For me, this was the most interesting aspect of the film because it doesn’t chastise a Rory for making a mistake. Instead, the film holds Rory accountable for taking another man’s inspiration and pawning it off as his own. It makes the old man’s story that much more effective.
Rory, on the other hand, is entitled and unlikeable. I can relate to his longing for validation, but I can’t condone his selfishness, or how the movie portrays his overnight success. His reaction after being confronted by the old man proves his self-centeredness, especially when he asks Dora why she loves him. After that scene, there was nothing Rory could do or say to receive any kind of acceptance from the old man or me.
As for the film’s big reveal, I saw that coming from a mile away. The problem with The Words is that it tried too hard to be meaningful and evocative, something I believe the ending was supposed to solidify. Instead, this simple film did little to change my notions about choice vs. chance and their inevitable consequences.
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