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Watched a flawed by still interesting movie last year, “The Words.” It’s about a writer’s dilemma upon discovering a truly brilliant novel, in an old briefcase. He reads the novel and is stunned. His own writing career has hit a wall, and he’s on the edge of desperation. No one will publish his own novel, though editors have nice things to say about it. The consensus among them is it’s just not marketable. Too “interior.”
He takes the found novel to a publisher without telling him he didn’t write it. It’s published and becomes a huge best seller and critical success.
So, what would you do? Would you make the found novel your own? Would you take it to a publisher but tell them that someone else wrote it? Get them to help you track down the writer, publicize it as the work of an unknown?
The tough part of that setup is that if you did the right thing, you’d probably kill any chance of a movie being made about your choices. Literature and film generally need real conflict, pivotal mistakes and wrong turns to create drama. It’s a rare work of art that manages to do without serious conflict and a struggle toward resolution. Though, of course, in the above scenario, that could come in the course of trying to find the author. Perhaps that would be its own new wrong road. The author turns out to be his real father, Darth Vader, and they fight to the death.
The movie also uses a novel within a novel frame, beyond its novel within a briefcase. A bit of post-modernism that works for me primarily on just one track. I found only one set of characters and their stories interesting or compelling — the couple who finds the briefcase, and the original writer and his real story — which points to the risk of using that method. Instead of letting foreground and background work in harmony, the movie chose to run parallel tracks, which were supposed to reinforce each other. Instead, for me, one story made the other seem impoverished in comparison.
Fiction and the life of the mind. Can it change lives? Can it bring lovers together and throw them apart? Can the failure to live up to one’s own dreams destroy that person and drive them to commit immoral, unethical acts? “The Words” provokes such questions, but ultimately fails to match their potential depth with a sufficient artistic structure or foundation.