The Secret Life of Words is the kind of movie that I used to dub a "grandparents film" -- no, no, I'm not talking about Gone with the Wind, It Happened One Night or anything else with Clark Gable, for that matter. I'm talking about the raw independent film that my grandparents are in love with; the film that is not necessarily overly preoccupied with state-of-the-art film editing; a film that is a little rough around the edges, so that you get that it's not trying to be Hollywood's next biggest blockbuster. Instead, it's just trying to be a good film that tells a good story.
Isabel Coixet, one of the most prolific female directors in Spain, offers a script that is existential in the way that the characters' stories are unfolded and purpose is evaluated. As Hannah (Sarah Polley), a deaf girl who takes her first holiday in years, volunteers to nurse a victim of severe burns on an oil rig (Tim Robbins), there's a sort of uncanny feeling that she did not simply choose to spend her vacation time in the middle of the ocean because she is bored -- there is something more to her character.
Time soon tells each person's motive for voluntary isolation from civilization: two men are gay, so this is where they can be together in peace; the oceanographer (Daniel Mays) is on a quest to change the apathetic mind, trying to prove that there are far more important observations to be making than how many waves crash onto the rig each day; in his brief blindness, a burnt man must face the reality that he has left more scars behind besides the physical ones engraved on his body.
Sarah Polley unravels the enigma of her character beautifully and hauntingly as we come to understand with each small piece of her softly delivered dialogue why they have come to the oil rig: to be needed by another. She needs someone else to help her find herself and to say those secrets that are continually ricocheted in her head as a whisper, reminding her of a past so morbid that it can never be forgotten.
This film is great if you are looking for a good story -- a story that allows you to delve into the power of human emotion and its ability to reveal truths about the self and existence. It takes time for the real plot to begin rolling, but once you really begin to see the development of the few identities, it's worth it -- it's worth it for their stories.