Well Rick B. from the United States, it seems that you did not like the Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s newest film The Worst Person in The World very much. Your Amazon review is quite short, and pretty rough. You gave it one star. The title of your review is “tedious, annoying people talking too much.” And then you followed that up with two words and an exclamation mark: “It sucks!”
I did like the film and so I found your annoyance annoying, which brings up the immediate question as to why I spend so much time reading Amazon reviews of things, films in particular, but also books, and I will also confess that when I read an Amazon review I find especially baffling I will often click on the name of the person leaving the review and look at other things they have reviewed. Sometimes this activity serves to confirm my own suspicions as to the general lack of taste of the person leaving the review that has baffled and upset me and that may be, I should note further, that may actually be the point here since the strange thing is that the reviews left in the Amazon review/comment section often genuinely upset me and I find myself shocked and dismayed by the opinions of my fellow human beings, human beings that say things about films or books that are so out of accord with the way that I see the world and want to think that others see the world that I have sometimes become genuinely depressed when reading these Amazon reviews.
But I keep going back to them. I have a fascination. It makes me think of Immanuel Kant sometimes, which is also filled with ambivalence for me since I always say that I am not a Kantian and since I sometimes make it a point to clarify (but doth the lady, me, protest too much?), in conversations with others, that I’m generally opposed to Kant in more or less the way of the early opposers of Kant from the late 18th century when all the German Romantics started to mount their objections to the Kantian critical system. And yet I keep thinking about Kant all the time, just as I keep thinking about all those Amazon reviews. I think about Kant when I think about the Amazon reviews I don’t like because it was Kant who once pointed out that the strange thing about liking things strongly, or what he called beauty, is that you want everyone else to like it too. When you say, “that’s a great work of art,” you kind of mean that this is objective, that others should agree. On the other hand, you can’t prove it. You want it to be more than just an opinion, but you’re on shaky ground with that and you know it. You’re in the weird realm of the subjective-objective. He had a point there, Kant did, even if he messed up everything he then went on to do with the point.
Getting back to you, Rick, I notice that maybe you are a teacher, perhaps an English teacher according to your positive review of a book called Voice and Choice. You love birds and wrote quite movingly of a TV series about birds. You wrote, “I was left in awe of the intelligence, diversity, and balance of nature as expressed through one of it’s [sic] most delicate creatures.” You aren’t a bad person. Is anyone actually a bad person? That’s the deepest core question here and I’m not going to get anywhere close to answering it. The point, at the very least, is that your reaction to The Worst Person in the World is completely valid. I can’t dismiss it. You are right, in a sense, that the movie is about tedious, annoying people talking too much. In a sense, you’ve nailed the very heart of the movie, which is that a certain number of people living in Oslo, but it could be New York, or Paris, or Nairobi, or New Delhi, or Tokyo, these people don’t really know what to do with their lives and they talk about it too much and become tedious and annoying.
That’s why we love them, Rick! Because they are tedious and annoying they are to be loved. The struggles of the tedious and annoying are real. But now I am trying to convince you again. I’m sorry. I still want you to see it my way. It is very hard to suppress the little Kantian inside. I suppose the little internal Kantian cannot be suppressed. That may be what you are trying to teach me, Rick, along with so many of the other Amazon commenters. It is impossible to get outside of our own particularity and the specific opinions and viewpoints that come with this particularity. It is impossible not to try, at least some of the time, to impose that particularity onto other particularities. Something in me demands that you see it my way, Rick. My own sense of life, of meaning and reality and purpose, needs you to acknowledge that the movie is beautiful, dammit, Rick.
But I am also proving your point, aren’t I Rick? People like me, people who enjoy the movies of directors like Joachim Trier, are people who can’t just write a simple, straightforward opinion like you. I can’t just title my review “tedious, annoying people talking too much,” and then add the thought, “It’s great!” No, I couldn’t do something elegant and leaving-it-well-enough-alone like that. I was more or less compelled to write a tedious and annoying and talking too much response, one just as clogged up with overdeveloped self-reflection as the film you dismissed with your laconic review. I wouldn’t actually want everyone to be like that, to be like me. That’s the final truth of it, Rick. I actually want you to be you and to be incomprehensible to me in the way you react to the films of Joachim Trier. It’s just hard for me to accept that and to see the beauty in the fact that you’re opaque to me. Or it takes work. It takes acknowledging the small but not actually insignificant amount of pain you caused me with your review and then accepting that pain and letting it pass and realizing that the pain had an interesting sweetness to it all along. Thank you for that, Rick. Be well. (And BTW, this very response to you is now up on amazon.)
Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, The Virginia Quarterly Review and is a contributor at The New Yorker. He won the Whiting Award for non-fiction in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. His new book from Slant is The Drunken Silenus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.