It’s quite often these days that there are movies which give us a true-to-life glimpse into our own values and life’s dilemmas. Last weekend, my husband Mike and I caught a movie on cable called A Thousand Words. The movie about this glib and haughty literary agent, Jack McCall (played by Eddie Murphy), who finds himself in a life-defining quandary.
Jack meets a New Age self-guru, Dr. Sinja, who uncovers the deceit and backhandedness of this literary agent. Suddenly, a magical Bodhi tree grows in Jack’s backyard. Both Jack and Dr. Sinja then discover that for every word that Jack says, a leaf will fall off of the tree. When the tree runs out of leaves, the tree will die, as will Jack.
With Jack forced to pick and choose his words, communicating with others becomes difficult and full of misunderstandings. These misunderstandings cost him two book deals, his job, and his wife. Only Jack’s assistant Aaron realizes he is telling the truth, and goes to Jack’s house to keep track of how many leaves remain. In an attempt to stop the tree from shedding any more leaves, Jack turns to charitable deeds, but still to no avail.
With his life falling apart and the tree running out of leaves, Jack confronts Dr. Sinja and asks how to end the curse. The guru tells him to make peace in all of his relationships.
With just one branch of leaves left, Jack tries to reconcile with his wife, visits his ailing mother, and finds himself lastly beside his father’s grave. It was Jack’s resentment and anger towards his dad that left him most bitter. In front of the grave, Jack uses up the last three leaves of the tree with the words, “I forgive you”. With no leaves remaining, Jack suffers a heart attack in a storm and appears to have died. But then, with a phone call, Aaron tells him that the tree’s leaves have magically reappeared and Jack can now talk freely again. As expected, the movie ends on a high note with Jack reclaiming his life back.
Portrayed with comedic flair, the plot though hilarious, has very remarkable undertones. Time isn’t counted as days, but as words. What if the same thing happened to you? If you had a thousand words left to say, what would you say? We all know the power of words – words for consoling, words for making others laugh, words for expressing anger and hurt. Many times, what we say leaves us in deep trouble with people close to us. Sadly, words that hurt can never really be taken back. You can’t really unsay something as many lost friendships have endured.
These days, people can articulate so many things on social media, with everyone open to speaking their mind, as we often read rants and raves online. Everyone can express themselves independently and freely without fear or any reserve. And unfortunately, the worst kind of talk—gossip abounds too. Gossip has been one of modern life’s guilty pleasures, with magazines and prime time even devoted to this. Even Pope Francis counsels against gossip, of speaking badly about others, and of being judgmental. I suppose the counsel to be meek is one that we find most difficult.
If we all had a thousand words left to spare, maybe we’d think twice about idle talk. If at all, A Thousand Words reminded me of the worth of parsimony and deliberateness of expression. So too was I reminded that magnanimity is best revealed in grace and gentleness with one’s words.