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The Words

Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service

Zoe Saldana and Bradley Cooper star in a scene from the movie "The Words."
Right up to its ending, "The Words" (CBS) is a pleasing rumination on moral choices. Then, after a full 93 minutes of illustrating and explaining ethical ambiguity, the filmmakers let their star-laden fable lurch to close with a finish likely to please no one.

Mary McCarthy once said of her novels that she took real plums and put them into an imaginary cake. "The Words" deals with struggling novelist Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), who happens across an entire truckload of someone else's plums. He claims them as his own, publishes them to great renown, then comes face to face with the man to whom they belonged in the first place.

Since this is an artsy work, said author, played by Jeremy Irons, is known simply as the Old Man.

Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, who co-wrote and co-directed, know how to hit all the gratifying flashback notes. Jansen finds the stunning romantic novel of postwar Paris in a battered briefcase his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) bought there on their honeymoon.

In reading the manuscript, the narration ponderously informs us, Jansen was "confronted by everything he ever appeared to be and the reality of what he would never become."

The story unfolds in a three-tiered frame, beginning with novelist Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reading from his book about the deception, and including the Old Man's bitter recounting of his life story to the stunned Jansen.

Ernest Hemingway references abound—as a reminder that all good fiction originates with suffering. That sentiment notwithstanding, the Paris scenes are postcard perfection.

Jansen knows he has to make a choice when he encounters the Old Man. But the filmmakers, coming from an industry where the theft of ideas is more common than it is for fiction writers, muddy their resolution and cheat a bit. To elucidate whose story this really is, there's a postlude with Hammond explaining to flirtatious graduate student Daniella (Olivia Wilde) how novelists plunder their own lives.

This talky drama is just the thing for those yearning to don tweed and corduroy, sip red wine and discuss literature on rainy nights.

The film contains two premarital situations as well as occasional profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.

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