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The movie The Words depicts a story of a writer who publishes a book about a young aspiring writer (Rory) living in New York with his wife (Dora). Rory’s books are being constantly rejected by publishers; during the couple’s honeymoon in Paris, Dora buys Rory a present, an old briefcase. Only after their return to New York Rory discovers a manuscript in the briefcase and decides to sell it as a book after his wife reads the manuscript and assumes that it is his work. Rory becomes an awarded and recognized writer, but he eventually meets the author of the manuscript and realizes the mistake he has made. He wants to reveal the author at first, but his publisher advises him not to. Eventually, Rory has to keep the secret and live with it. At the end of the movie, it becomes clear that the author of the book, Clayton Hammond, wrote an autobiographical story. The three ethical issues are theft of the work of another writer, lies in marriage, and the problem of one’s doubling identity and life.
Rory is a metaphor for lies, theft, and plagiarism that currently exist in our culture; his actions partially support the postmodern argument that nothing new can be created and everything is copied. Rory’s actions do not align with respect as a pillar of a character because he neither respects himself nor his wife by lying to her. Rory’s character is not just or fair (second pillar) at the beginning of the movie, but at its end, he demonstrates the desire to be fair by trying to help the old man. However, Rory does not become trustworthy (third pillar), as he decides to keep the secret from the public.
Marriage is symbolic of trust, love, acceptance, and support. However, Rory wanted his wife to see him as a talented and brilliant author, which prevented him from telling her the truth. This decision led to reoccurring fights between the characters and Rory’s questioning of his identity, as he believed that he was not the person his wife loved.
The author’s confrontation with Rory was based on his perception of Rory as one who had stolen his life, mistakes, and experiences, thus demolishing their significance. His confrontation is based on the fact that he “loved words more than women” and thus lost his happiness (family) due to his love for writing, which was stolen by another man (Klugman and Sternthal). The old man’s actions rely on deontology ethics: act in such a way that it can be used universally and do no harm.
Rory envies the author of the manuscript and imitates his talent, which eventually results in problems within his own marriage because he begins to question whether his wife loves him or the imitation of a successful writer that he portrays. When becoming a liar, Rory does not only cheat on his wife by making her believe he is a talented writer but he also becomes more and more insecure about himself and his life, stating that his decision makes his life and his marriage fall apart (Klugman and Sternthal). The only path to redemption would be to publicly state who the author of the manuscript was and accept the reaction of the public, the media, friends, and relatives as a consequence. Rory did not choose redemption because it would not only destroy his life but also undermine his identity as an author and a husband and annihilate his dream of becoming an awarded writer.
Cheating on a test is similar to the movie’s situation as one uses the work (experience, knowledge) of another author and presents it as his own. The difference is that test results are rarely based on personal experiences and do not reflect one’s identity or unique ideas, which makes the act of cheating on a test to be perceived not as plagiarism but rather as purposeful deceiving. The cheater’s perception of oneself does not change significantly.
Klugman, Brian, and Lee Sternthal, directors. The Words. CBS Films, 2012.