Tuesday evening my roommate and I drove to Washington D.C., the nearest city to us playing Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World. It took nearly two hours to get there and we were still early. As we sat in the theater (it was too cold to do anything else) I thought about what I wanted the film to be. A coming-of-age story, a romance film, a feminist piece.
The Worst Person in the World was all of that and more.
The Worst Person in the World
Director: Joachim Trier
Release Date: February 4, 2022 (Limited Theatrical)
The Worst Person in the World, the third installment in Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s “Oslo Trilogy” follows Julie (Renate Reinsve) as she turns thirty and navigates the many overlapping facets of her life. Her relationships with her family, friends, and lovers entwine and tangle as Julie struggles to figure out what she truly desires in life. Her relationship with her father is one-sided, her boyfriend wants things she’s not ready for, and she works part-time at a bookstore. Just another day in the life of a 29-year-old.
Told through twelve chapters of Julie’s life – along with a prologue and epilogue – The Worst Person in the World lets Julie’s indecisive nature unfold around her as she grapples with her own humanity. Julie is a mess, trying to appear in control of her life as she steers through sex, love, and work.
Most coming-of-age stories are focused on the obvious groups of teens and young adults living on their own for the first time. Trier made a film for the rest of us: 20 somethings who graduated school and have absolutely no clue what to do now; people working odd jobs until we find something more concrete. Our parents figured it out, why can’t we? Although Julie’s life is very different from my own I felt understood through her. I have classmates who “made it” before we even really graduated while I’m working two jobs to pay rent and my career plan is vague at best. The Worst Person in the World is a film of hope, self-love, and knowing that it’s okay to not know what the future holds for you.
The mechanics of the film work in harmony with Trier’s story and characters. The score enchants, the camera captures the best and worst of Julie, the acting is sublime (Renate Reinsve is particularly phenomenal). There are even moments of outlandish magic in the movie to showcase the subjectivity of the film’s reality. My favorite is right before Julie breaks up with Aksel (Anders Danielson Lie) for Eivind (Herbert Nordrum). She flicks on a light and the world literally freezes around her. Off she goes to the cafe where Eivind works, where they both decide that the chemistry between them at the wedding party in an earlier chapter was too obvious to ignore. High off the knowledge that she is actively chasing the things she wants, Julie runs back home to “unpause” life.
What drew me in the most about The Worst Person in the World was Julie’s character. As the film’s protagonist, we are both within and outside of her. Throughout the film, there is a voiceover narrating her thoughts right before she speaks them out loud. Is this Julie later in life, after she’s done more living? An omnipresent voice? Viewers must simply trust this voice to tell us Julie’s desires and thoughts almost the very same moment that she decides them for herself. Her decisions are rarely logical and almost entirely based on what Julie feels she wants regardless of the longevity. Julie is constantly seeking to validate her “flakiness” and it’s not until the end of the film that she knows exactly what she wants.
While some of the main themes of The Worst Person in the World are indecisiveness and a fear of growing up, it is similarly a film about birth and death. Contrasting the slow death of Aksel with Julie’s hesitancy about her unplanned pregnancy reveals a lot of her anxieties about the future of the world, along with a desire to leave behind a legacy for others to know her by. The characters are motivated (and even terrified) by birth and death. Julie is caught in the middle of these conflicting natures for most of the film, but reconnecting with Aksel inspires some change in her. Julie realizes she doesn’t want to have a baby with Eivind, and maybe not with anyone. Julie’s final chapter and epilogue show the culmination of her growth, as she now lives alone and works in film. She’s finally made it!
As the screen faded to black and the audience filtered out, my roommate and I were glued to our seats. We knew we saw magic, a film validating our experiences as confused adults. Joachim Trier created a cinematic experience that perfectly captures the essence of growing up in a world where things are rapidly changing. COVID-19, climate change, feminism, sexuality, yoga, and social media are just some of the concepts circling in Julie’s life (and many young-ish adults’ lives as well). We can’t know what the next day will bring us, so like Julie we must try to live in the moment.
The Worst Person in the World is currently nominated for two Oscar awards: Best International Feature Film and Best Writing for an Original Screenplay. Renate Reinsve also won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival. It deserves those honors and more. Even though it’s only February, I think I found my film of the year.