THE WORDS: Creativity, Scientific Integrity & Cultural Evolution

THE WORDS is a film that brings a whole new meaning to the term character driven. Here, four different men play one principle character. He has different names, ages and stages of creative capacity portrayed by Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Ben Barnes and Denis Quaid. The character is in love with a story which has been translated into a literary work. There is an element of torment and ineptness in the love.  The moral muse of the male character is played by three women; Olivia Wiled, Zoe Saldana, and Nora Arnezeder. The capacity of this film to telescope one character and story into another is a marvelous Rubik's cube. Director Brian Klugman and co-writer Lee Sternthal should be well recognized for their facility in showing the multiple faces of this tale.  Each man in the film wants to own the story in question and does.

THE WORDS is important to bioethics because it illustrates that ownership of a narrative is complex; even more so when embroidered by its developmental consideration.  Literature, like science, resembles a value, like peace, more than property. Such values are owned by the collective not by the individual. We process all art through our own experience.  Isn't it what artists want us to do? What is really the harm of taking someone else's creative product as one's own?   Novels are usually solo creations. Other art forms, film, dance, drama and research are collaborative. How can they be considered to have only one author?  This delicate tangle of creative influences is often blown away by matters of law, abandoning obligations to understanding the moral significance of creative theft. Regulatory, societal devices co-modify creativity; confining it to the potential monitory product it yields.

A narrative has to be recorded in order to be owned under law, despite how its derived. The issue is chronology of registration as with patents, trademarks, publication copyright and other intellectual property registries. Theirs is also a question of order of authorship. Ownership in terms of moral authority to tell a story is more muddy. (See THE HELP on this blog.) In the eyes of the law, oral folk tales are not owned until published. Then they are owned by the publisher and editor. These stories exist for generations as the common property of the group of people who generate them, usually orally.  To paraphrase the late director of the game changing film BLUE, Krzysztof Kieślowski, the best of these narratives find resonance between people, breaking down isolation and becoming a part of culture. In this transcendence narratives can become universal.

There are only a few universal themes; love, birth, suffering, loss and death. Universal stories are common to all persons, if not to all living things. How a universal story differs in the telling is the key to intellectual property or legal ownership in literature. THE WORDS presents a new telling. The film is a constellation of stars without need for a sun. 

In contrast to literature, scientific integrity in research is dependent on reproducing the methods of other researchers to reach the same conclusion. Science is almost always collaborative. A hypothesis, ingeniously generated, is tested by attempts to disprove it. If the hypothesis cannot be disproved, that bit of information obtained is considered to be true. More experimental manipulation clarifies the amount of pressure a particular truth can withstand without becoming lost. The rules (laws and policies) defining research misconduct usually include: intentional fabrication, falsification, plagiarism  or other serious deviation from accepted practices of science in proposing, carrying out  or reporting results of research (Macrina, 1995). 

Bench researchers and other artist/craftsmen are both relatively low on the economic food chain. Their rewards for moral integrity are left largely unremunerated and errors in method swiftly found intolerable. Bad research results in dangerous medicines, medical implements, unsafe building structures and on and on. But the harm of plagiarism is broader than a mis-shaped commodity. Science is Art. Both are creative endeavors coming from a shared reservoir of human consciousness. Creativity is discouraged when it is not recognized. Plagiarism causes a creative post-traumatic stress syndrome, brilliantly depicted by Jeremy Irons in THE WORDS. Draining the creative reservoir limits creative growth and stifles prospects for cultural and intellectual evolution.  

THE WORDS (35 mm) directed by Brian Klugman (2012)  USA. CBS Films.  96 min.

For more understanding see: 
Macrin, Francis. Scientific Integrity: An introductory Text with Cases.  American Society of Microbiology. Washington, DC. 1995.  p 1-14

THE HELP (35 mm) directed by Tate Taylor. (2011) USA. Touchstone Pictures. 146 min.
Tricolor: Blue. (35 mm) directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski (1993) France, Poland, Switzerland. Mirmax/MK2 Diffusion.