Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Can a person do something so bad, there’s no way he or she could make up for it? To set it right? Where neither passage of time nor any amount of restitution can purge the perpetrator’s guilt?
The Bible clearly answers, “Yes.”
And so does a curious and thoughtful film from Hollywood this weekend, “The Words.”
“The Words” is a cleverly intertwined tale of a writer writing about a writer who stole his writing from another writer. It’s a tale of three men, some real, some fictional, and which is which is sometimes difficult to tell.
But don’t let the confusing plot, or even the disappointing ending ruin it: “The Words” is still one of my favorite films of 2012.
Like the similarly overlooked and better-than-billed “Stranger than Fiction” a few years ago, “The Words” is a quirky little film that touches the heart of writers, especially, and tickles the soul instead of the funny bone.
At the heart of the tale is struggling author Rory Jansen, who discovers a lost, masterpiece manuscript from an unknown author and decides to copy it, just to feel the words of the prose flowing through his fingers. But when the copy is mistaken as his original work and promises to fulfill his aspirations, Jansen allows it to be published under his name.
“He knew the life he wanted,” the film explains, “and he knew what he had to do to get it.”
Only when the original author confronts him with the blood and tears that stained the writing of that manuscript does Jansen realize the gravity of his plagiarism.
“You think you can just steal a man’s life?” the original author, now an old man, asks Jansen.
No, he can’t. But knowing the old man’s story, Jansen realizes neither can he undo the crime. No amount of money or attribution or restitution can repair the sin Jansen has committed against the original author, a fact he understands all too well as a writer himself.
So what is Jansen to do? How does he live with himself, and if he does, how well does he live?
I’m not sure if the makers of “The Words” know the answer or not, but they ask all the right questions.
The film’s climax comes when (yet another) aspiring young writer confronts the narrator of our tale, demanding to know what happens to Jansen.
“There’s no moral,” the narrator explains, “just the belief that after making one terrible mistake, one can continue to live, and live well.”
“Bulls—,” the young writer (and the movie audience) respond. “Tell me the truth!”
“The Words” never does tell the truth. It rests its argument on the line, “We all make choices. The hard thing is to live with them, and there ain’t nobody that can help you with that.”
But the cognitive dissonance that answer leaves the audience with, the natural refusal of the viewer to accept that there can be no redemption, is an arrow that points piercingly to the Cross of Christ.
For the film’s inability to come to a satisfying conclusion lies in the lie, “There ain’t nobody that can help you with that.”
In truth, there is somebody. There is a path to redemption for even the darkest of deeds. True, we can’t “make it right,” and we may never be able to make restitution to our fellow man, but in Christ, there is forgiveness. There is new life and the chance to live free of the mess we have made. If the “hard thing is to live with [our poor choices],” then through Christ, redemption is possible.
“The Words” doesn’t make this point, but it provides a great opportunity for Christian audiences to share the good news with those who leave the film frustrated. For in “The Words,” Hollywood has laid bare one of the soul’s deepest questions and its need for a Savior. The challenge is, will those who take the name of that Savior share the answer to the question?
“The Words,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 20 profanities and obscenities, a couple of them strong.
The film contains several (probably too many) kisses, one heavy, some sensual flirting, and a few scenes that imply sex, but no actual sex scenes or nudity.
The film’s only violence is a man trashing his own apartment in grief and a World War II scene in which a dead body is being carried on a stretcher and a badly burned arm is seen.
The movie mentions God a couple of times as a source of direction and as a bestower of good fortune, but there is no significant religious or occult content.