David James’s review published on Letterboxd:
I'm late to the party and I'm sure a thousand other letterboxd users have said the same thing, but here we go:
It's great they made a movie about my life!
Seriously though, I may have felt seen by the cathartic depiction of grief in Drive My Car and watched the distilled essence of my childhood in The Tree of Life, but I have never seen a fictional story so perfectly mirror the bold, dumb misadventure of my early adult life with such emotional authenticity and go-for-broke enthusiasm. I'm tempted to list off the parallels, beginning with the fact that I'm terminally indecisive, and still, at age thirty nine, wondering about different careers I might switch to once my kid is at school full time. But maybe I'll just detail some highlights. These are some of the reasons The Worst Person in the World hit so close to home in the warmest, most generous way possible.
After the intro sequence, in which we watch our heroine Julie leaping from one pursuit to another before ever fully investing in any path as she barrels through college and careers (mid twenties me: *waves*), we get to see the most beautifully doomed meet-cute possible and follow the new pair to a weekend in the country with friends. This is where the movie announced its aesthetic intentions loud and clear with the following pair of tracks: the hypnotic "Bra" by Cymande (deep funk classic I first heard in Spike Lee's 25th Hour) and the immaculate, wildly underrated Todd Rundgren anthem "Healing." I exclaimed to my wife, "I can't believe they're playing Healing! That's low-key my favorite Rundgren album and nobody else loves it," and she said yes babe, I know with an affectionate eye-roll in her voice. I refrained from retelling the part where we saw a "Healing" sticker on the wall of a bar during one of our first dates almost a decade ago, and I'm proud of that.
The whole movie is laid out in chapters, with a prologue and epilogue to boot. A few chapters onward from that sequence, where we've followed her falling in and out of love and drastically switching up her life yet again, she enjoys some psychedelic mushrooms at a party. If you've seen the movie, you'll know why I now crack up every time I see this completely unrelated movie poster. Anyway, as she devoured a double dose of the mushrooms while everyone else doles out a moderate portion for themselves, I thought "uh oh, been there!"
Everyone had their pile laid out on a plate in front of them. Knowing how awful they tasted, I gobbled mine up as quickly as possible and downed a large glass of orange juice to wash it down. That's when I noticed no one else had finished theirs, not even close. "David, you were supposed to eat half at most." I heard, and I shrugged. I'd done plenty of psychedelics before so I thought I was fortified well enough.
I was not.
I wrote the above in my She Dies Tomorrow post, which all around great dude ScreeningNotes called an "absolute odyssey of a review" if anyone's curious to read fifteen paragraphs on tripping way too hard.
The Worst Person in the World proceeded to blow away any expectations I had about the depiction of this kind of psychedelic experience on film. Suffice it to say that it completely mirrored my own rough night on mushrooms in essence, if not every specific detail. Sure I ended up leaping into a bathtub fully clothed after losing the ability to tell faces apart instead of doing [redacted] like Julia does (I am not going to spoil the wildest moment in the movie), but the whole spirit was there, spot on, and after everything that came before it, felt like I was watching a Norwegian adaptation of my twenties in fast forward. Finding such literal identification in an episodic story like this can really let the themes and ideas sink their hooks in deeper, or at least lower any innate resistance to them. It's not that I care about coincidental connection to story beats; it's that the deep parallels reveal a sense of authenticity about the journey I'm witnessing. Those weird little details that stick out, ringing with the fidelity of real memory - the whole movie is pulsing with them, radiating lived experience and obscuring the powerful, purposeful construction beneath.
Despite that sense of authenticity, there's no aura of meandering, slice-of-life drama here. Every chapter is carefully sculpted, another essential facet on a nearly flawless gemstone, revealing vital character growth and gently nudging the story onward. Breathtaking writing economy and sharp editing allow a decade's worth of life to breeze by, in time if not significance. For every joyous needle drop and flirtatious encounter, there's a gut punch, small or large, the accumulated sadnesses that happen in any life over enough time, weighing on the heart more and more each time it recurs. Writer-director Joachim Trier understands so clearly how the darker stuff somehow becomes both easier to bear and yet heavier as we age into our thirties and beyond. The monumental losses start happening and you know they'll never stop, but the good times grow more precious in between. The yearning, the chasing, the anger, the laughs, the great saudade begins nesting in our souls and we willingly make room for it as we get older.
I got a little lost there I guess. But the important thing is, this movie understands that feeling better than anything I've watched in a long time. It's full of heart, it's hilarious, it's cutting - oh god, can it be cutting if you've gone through some of this. I was laughing while feeling an ancient embarrassment in my guts, I was on the verge of tears for several stretches. It's beautiful, it's great, it's got a really banging soundtrack, and it feels shot out of a cannon. I can't wait to watch again. And now I'll be going back through Trier's filmography.
I'm just gonna drop the lyrics to "Healing" below because they seem like they might've been a sort of guiding mantra as the movie was being written:
Listen to the voice - the voice is an illusion
Listen to the voice - don't let the words confuse you
'Cause you need something to concentrate on, concentrate on me
You need something to meditate on, meditate on me
Listen to your heart, tune into the rhythm
Listen to your heart, beating with precision
Like the waves upon the seaside it goes on and on
Like the spinning of the world it goes on and on
Listen for the sound that is not in the music
Only you can hear it, only you can use it
It's the sound of someone breathing, it's the breath of life
It's the sound that you are weaving with the thread of life
Listen to the sound, let nothing disturb you
You are in a place where nothing can hurt you
If you feel a strange sensation, it can do no harm
Like the spiral of creation it will soon move on