The Secret Life of Words (2005) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A hearing impaired factory worker gives up her first holiday in years and instead travels out to an oil rig, where she cares for a man suffering from severe burns.

  • Hannah, who wears a hearing aid, is forced to go on holiday. On holiday she manages to find a job: caring for Josef, a burn victim on an oil rig who temporarily lost his sight, until he's stable enough to be transferred. There is almost no one on the rig, except a cook, an oceanographer and a few others out at sea. Hannah tends to Josef and he slowly breaks her shell of silence.

  • In Ireland, the introspective deaf worker Hanna is forced to take vacations by her boss after four years service in a factory. She travels, but when she overhears a phone conversation in a restaurant, she offers to nurse a burned worker with fractures and temporarily blind in a decommissioned oil rig. Joseph seriously wounded after risking his life to rescue a colleague that committed suicide jumping in a fire and need to stay for a while in the platform to stabilize his health condition. Hanna is a lonely woman, with the paranoid behavior of eating white rice, chicken nuggets and apple everyday and never repeating the soap, and she slowly interacts with the few workers first, opening her heart to Joseph later and disclosing her traumatic experience in her old country.


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  • The movie portrays the fragile remains of a torture survivor, Hanna (Sarah Polley) from the war in Croatia. A burn unit nurse by training, she has gone through survival counseling at a center in Copenhagen where her torture was documented by Inge (Julie Christie), and then made her way to work in a Northern Ireland factory. She has post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, including compulsive behavior (stacks of bars of soap), is hearing impaired (nearly deaf without a hearing aid on) and lives her life completely alone, attending to work every day, taking no sick leave or holidays. The union complains so she is directed to take a holiday. She goes to a seacoast village and overhears an oil company manager discussing the need for a live-in nurse for a burned oil platform worker on site in the North Sea. She volunteers to help, and begins to care for Josef (Tim Robbins) who is temporarily blind and has face and arm burns from fighting a rig fire. He coaxes her story of torture from her, feeling the cuts scars on her chest in a remarkably poignant moment of truth. After he is transferred to hospital, she goes back to the factory. He talks to Inge and realizes the depth of suffering and the guilt of torture victims who survive. A moving love story, beautifully done, with unforgettable character development and a happy ending.

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