Stolen ‘Words’ lead to success
Updated: September 12, 2012 7:43AM
Just in time for back-to-school: A cautionary, though occasionally confusing, tale that makes it plain that plagiarism is a bad idea.
Or does it?
“The Words” opens with sour middle-aged author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reading aloud to an audience from his latest novel.
“The Words,” he intones before beginning. “Written by ... me.”
Hammond’s novel is an reasonably diverting story within a story within a story about an aspiring writer named Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper, who played a more interesting frustrated author in “Limitless”), who moves to New York after college with his college sweetheart Dora (Zoe Saldana). There, he diligently composes his first novel, a deeply heartfelt work that is entirely rejected by publishing companies and literary agents. Rory is too much of an artist, it seems, to be a potential commercial success. “It’s subtle, it’s a piece of art,” says a sympathetic agent (Ron Rifkin). “But it’s too interior.”
The agent recommends scraping the first book and starting over, which is just enough of a discouragement for Rory to start listening to the advice of father (“part of being a man is recognizing your own limitations”) and to take a job as a mail clerk at a publishing house. Then, one day, after marrying Dora and honeymooning in Paris (with the same mysterious funding that allows them to live in a large loft in Brooklyn), Rory is back home rifling through the old leather valise she bought for him at a Parisian antique shop.
He discovers an old, yellowed, manuscript in a hidden seam. It is, of course, a lost masterpiece, which Rory feels compelled to type into his computer, just “to feel the words passing through him.” Then Dora reads it, declares him a genius, and insists that he submit it to his bosses at work. And, next thing you know, Rory’s on the bestseller list and a critical sensation winning literary awards.
And this, we’re shown, is pretty much a really good thing for Rory. His wife loves him more than ever, his dad is proud of him, he’s rich and famous — everything’s going great, until the Old Man shows up.
That’s bad news for Rory but good news for us, because the Old Man is the one who wrote that brilliant masterpiece and he’s played by Jeremy Irons — who adds considerable dramatic ballast to the remainder of the film (despite a bit of overkill on the old-age makeup). Hammond introduces him and tells his back story (a young American soldier in Paris inspired to write a masterpiece after experiencing tragedy) and draws parallel’s between Rory’s romance with Dora and the young soldier’s romance with his Celia — which ends with his manuscript going astray. And that’s basically where Hammond leaves the story of Rory and the Old Man. “The Words” is not a film noir, it’s a romantic tragedy with moral overtones. There’s no attempt at blackmail. No necessity to commit murder. And they part with a certain sort of understanding, if not forgiveness, having been achieved.
Gradually, through the telling of the two tales, it begins to seem likely that Hammond has a very personal connection with Rory, as revealed, bit by bit, through the author’s interactions with a seductively obnoxious young grad student (Olivia Wilde). If “The Words” is self-confession (and that remains an if in the unsatisfactory conclusion), then Hammond has essentially traded true love and a clear conscience for fulfilling his dream of success as a writer. And it’s not clear that he would consider that a bad deal at all.