The Secret Life of Words

2006

The Secret Life of Words (2006)

TOMATOMETER

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

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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
Observer
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

A worthwhile film but that doesn't mean that it's an enjoyable movie viewing experience.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer

½

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 Ryan
Leigh Ryan

Super Reviewer

½

This very calm, quiet drama tells the story of a young laconic woman working at a factory without having much of a life, being forced to take some time off for vacation where she happens to overhear an oil platform being in need of a nurse. Instead of relaxing she takes care of a burn victim (Tim Robbins) who is is slowly recovering from an accident there. As she is slowly making contact with her flirty patient and the minimum crew there, she carefully seems to come out from her shell. Sarah Polley is really convincing as tortured soul with a dark secret, that is going to get revealed in the end, in a pretty gloomy and almost painful story to listen to. The fact that the movie doesn't end in despair right there but takes the tale a little further, where hope is still an option, makes it really rewarding in the end. Fine acting, an interesting and moving story, an all around convincing romance / drama.

Jens S.
Jens S.

Super Reviewer

½

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 Lilly
Curtis Lilly

Super Reviewer

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