It was because he loved the words more than he loved her.
Those were the words of the Old Man. Those were the words he spoke to the young writer who had plagiarized his own.
In the feature film “The Words,” directed and written by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, the Old Man (Jeremy Irons) is a fictional character; but like many characters in works of fiction, he speaks truth — the truth about himself as the Young Man, so much in love, yet unable to forgive his beloved when he learns she has lost the manuscript of his novel in a Paris railway station.
Decades later, the struggling young writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) accidentally finds that manuscript. He covets the words the Old Man has written, so much so that he copies them verbatim and allows them to be published as his own. And for this he also pays the high price of losing the woman he loves.
Finally, in this convoluted drama there is the writer himself — the successful author Clayton Hammond (Dennis Quaid), who reads sections from his latest book “The Words” aloud. Afterwards, a groupie graduate student (Olivia Wilde) finagles her way into his penthouse to attempt to learn the truth about what happened to the Old Man and the plagiarist in his book. When Hammond tells her, she doesn’t buy it. She thinks he’s lying, because no one — not even a fictional character — can continue to live a lie and still sleep at night.
“There is a fine line between fiction and life,” Hammond tells her. “They come close, very close, but they never touch.”
All of the characters that a writer creates come from inside his head. They might be based on persons from real life, but in the end he makes them up; and because they come from the depths of his being, ultimately they are part of him and he is part of them. There is no other way.
And so the words of the fictional book “The Words” were written by Hammond. Hammond made up the Old Man just like he made up the Young Man, just like he made up Rory Jansen. He gave them life; he gave them the words to speak.
But there’s more to it than that, of course; because even Clayton Hammond himself was created by Klugman and Sternthal. Ultimately, they are the ones who drafted the words of the screenplay.
Writers of fiction might love their words to such an extent that they are prepared to sacrifice the greatest loves of their lives for their work.
Hemingway was such a writer; he never forgave his first wife for losing his early manuscripts on a train in Paris. The Young Man in “The Words” never forgives his young wife for doing the same; and when the young writer Rory Jansen opts to plagiarize the Old Man’s words to please himself and his wife, he loses them both.
Writing — or any sort of great art for that matter — can be a sickness, in which the artist sacrifices everything for the work, even the most precious of human relationships.
“We all make choices in life,” the Old Man says. “The hardest part is to live with them. Nobody can help you do that.”