The Secret Life of Words


The Secret Life of Words

Critics Consensus

The Secret Life of Words is a slow, mannered drama, but with a revelatory and powerful ending that rewards the patient viewer.



Total Count: 39


Audience Score

User Ratings: 7,221
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Movie Info

Writer-director Isabel Coixet's (My Life Without Me) beautifully wrought chamber drama The Secret Life of Words opens on Hanna (Sarah Polley), a laconic, backward and introverted girl in her early '30s, quietly drowning in her own isolation. Partially deaf from working an untold number of hours in a loud factory, Hanna must wear a hearing aid. When her supervisors -- deeply concerned about the four years that have lapsed in Hanna's life without a break -- force her to go on holiday for a month, she hesitantly takes off for a coastal village in the north of Ireland. Once there, she decides to dine in a local restaurant, and overhears, by chance, a telephone conversation conducted by Victor (Eddie Marsan), regarding an accident on a nearby oil rig that he precipitated, which left a victim, Josef (Tim Robbins) in its wake. Hanna tells Victor that she is a nurse, and is instantly flown to the rig to treat the bedbound Josef -- temporarily blind from extensive cornea damage, and his body blanketed with severe burns. She also encounters the structure's motley and eccentric band of workers -- from ecologist Martin (Daniel Mays), who spends his time studying mutated mussels that collect on the ship's base and the waves that strike the side of the rig, to Josef, to chef Simon (Javier Camára), who prepares "gourmet" food no one else can stand, to Dimitri (Sverre Anker Ousdal), an elderly gentleman who is as much of a loner as Hanna. As Hanna begins to foresee a new place for herself among these individuals, a relationship gradually develops between Hanna and Josef, who holds his new friend rapt with lyrical, evocative, magisterial tales from his past -- unknowingly drawing Hanna, one step at a time, toward inner joy, self-expression, and revelation of her own sad and complex story. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for The Secret Life of Words

All Critics (39) | Top Critics (16)

  • The claustrophobic and artificial atmosphere of the setting is unfortunately matched by the equally artificial drama.

    Dec 30, 2006
  • What pleasure there is to be wrung from the exceptionally banal The Secret Life of Words lies in the harsh, unforgiving beauty (lyrically shot by Jean-Claude Larrieu) and wonderfully strange social life of the isolated rig.

    Dec 22, 2006
  • There may be no young actress today better at embodying a blend of wounded innocence and stoic pride than Sarah Polley. In The Secret Life of Words, she has a part worthy of her gifts.

    Dec 21, 2006 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • Though I continue to have strong reservations about the stylistic abstractions in Ms. Coixet's narrative, the performances given by Ms. Polley, Mr. Robbins and Ms. Christie take me a long way in accepting and recommending the whole package.

    Dec 20, 2006

    Andrew Sarris

    Top Critic
  • Like Ceylan -- like many a fine director -- Coixet has made her film less as a drama than as the traversal of a state of mind, a mood.

    Dec 15, 2006
  • In due course skeletons will march out of closets, but the movie yields up its secrets with slow reluctance.

    Dec 15, 2006

Audience Reviews for The Secret Life of Words

  • Apr 04, 2012
    Sometimes people go through great amounts of pain and unbearable suffering, it takes a lot of time for them to be able to heal and go on with their lives. This movie helps us to understand that process and connect with other people's pain. It does it in a very slow pace, but that's the greatness and beauty of this movie. It gives us time to understand what these people have been through and shows how important it is that we do not forget. This movie is not for people who are not sensitive to think about what happened in Yuguslavia' some years ago and what the human cruelness can reach in war times.It also shows that there is a place in a world for those that have suffered, hurt, lonely, shy. And I am grateful for this movie, it shows that there is so much more in life than words, and that we all carry a rich universe in us to be explored if we love and are loved no matter who we are and what life has put us through. Simply beautiful and a must to see.
    Daisy M Super Reviewer
  • Apr 04, 2012
    Not being much of a fan of Polley, this movie breaks all the rules. Wonderful story and fabulous acting (especially Polley). The way it slowly tells the stories of both Hanna and Josef and their journey together just mixes so well. FABULOUS!
    Leigh R Super Reviewer
  • Sep 17, 2011
    I loved this movie, but I can see how its not or everyone. The exceptionally subdued action serves two purposes. It is required to focus the audience on the very understated revelation of the action and it mirrors the hidden secrets that both Polley's and Robbin's characters are hiding. The opening ten minutes without dialogue follow Polley (without dialog through her routing working in a loud twine factory and eating the same meal (chicken, apple and rice) every day without any personnel interaction. The sound goes silent for a minute and another employee taps her shoulder and she turns up her hearing aid revealing her near complete hearing loss. Her attention is piqued when she overhears a man trying to find out how to get a nurse to live on an oil rig for two weeks that is shutdown after a fatal fire that leave Robbins gravely burned not stable enough for transport. She surprisingly explains that she is a nurse. I really enjoyed picking up on the little tidbits of information and the study of what is not said in furtherance of the action. The lack of subtly after the climax was a little let down, but over all one of the most enthralling natural character studies I've seen in a long time.
    Bill C Super Reviewer
  • Feb 04, 2008
    Tim Robbins had great dialog in this film (until the ending). A burn victim on an oil rig in the ocean, who falls in love with his war-refugee nurse Sarah Polley who shows him her cut up boobs. Turned out to be pretty great.
    Curtis L Super Reviewer

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