The Worst Person in the World is easily one of the worlds best movies of 2021.
It’s my personal favorite of the year and it makes me tremendously happy it’s here to be experienced at Sundance 2022, even if it’s merely as a Spotlight screening.
The final film of Joachim Trier’s melancholic Oslo Trilogy is a profound exploration of a young woman’s twenties to thirties in a contemporary world rich with proclaimed purpose.
Broken down into an epilogue, 12 chapters and a prologue, this romantic tragedy follows Julie, the world’s worst person in question as she struggles with love, ambition and her own identity in the populous Norwegian capital of Oslo.
Renate Reinsve plays the young woman Julie, and runs freer than ever before with a defining best actress worthy performance. Her character is nothing short of intelligent, she’s a charming and social soul but she’s equally as lost, personally and professionally.
There is this preconceived notion that your twenties and thirties are a decade of your life that necessitate an overwhelming amount of certainty. At the forefront of everyone’s mind is usually what you want to do professionally and who you want to love and be loved by. Sure it helps to have some idea where your life is heading but sometimes that is simply easier said than done and sometimes it can’t be said or done at all. A lack of certainty can cause a sense of inadequacy especially when compared to others. But even when you possess merely an ounce of certainty and make life choices they can sometimes feel like the wrong choices. Some feel like proper steps but others feel like missteps, that’s just how it goes unfortunately. When you’re fully aware of this and surrounded by others who appear so certain, career driven, so confident, so in love with “the one” and settled in for the rest of their lives, It’s all more than enough to make you truly feel like the worst person in the world. It’s almost as if you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Writer Eskil Vogt, director Joachim Trier and the trio of main characters make a sensational crack at deciphering this overwhelming and oftentimes indescribable sense of existential imposter syndrome in The Worst Person in the World.
Julie finds herself jumping from major to major, from fling to fling, fully taking in her young adulthood. Her future is both years away and right in front of her all at the same time. She’s fully capable of making life choices for herself but regardless of her personal explorative evolution, she’s still not quite sure what she wants to do in life or who she wants in her life. It’s not as cliche as it may sound, I promise. Trier portrays it all in the prologue very authentically and it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Within these 4 whirlwind years of young adulthood, Julie meets two serious loves of her life–a 40something Cartoonist ready to settle down named Anders—played by Trier veteran actor Anders Danielsen Lie—and Eivind—played by Herbert Nordrum—a fellow 30something barista with an equal shortage of certainty in life. During her relationships with these two widely different men she begins to learn much more about herself.
Some of what she discovers causes intense personal regret and resentment. The biggest decisions we are often forced to make feel the scariest especially when you factor in how they can and do affect others around you. Regardless of the legitimacy of these feelings, it can easily make you feel like the worst.
But when something feels entirely right (even if it actually isn’t), young adulthood can feel like the most magical of experiences. Moments of pure cinematic fantasy are sprinkled throughout the film and they’re born when Julie feels intense emotion, good or bad. Julie literally freezes time in the middle of a conversation with Anders to reconnect with Eivind and spend an entire day with her new crush. She finds herself in a passionate psychedelic trip where she viciously confronts some of her deepest fears and frustrations about her shitty father and having her own children. These are only rare instances in the film and it’s the perfect amount to keep the film grounded firmly in reality. They are great reminders that even during what feels like the most demanding and emotionally straining period of your life, your twenties to thirties can be the most mesmerizing and the most transformative as well. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, as Charles Dickens once said.
Before Julie even knows it, her life is in a completely different place now than it was in the prologue. And she would’ve never gotten to this point without making the choices that she did, no matter their difficulty. She reconnected with past loves, personally and professionally, she’s lost plenty and experienced immense heartbreak, but it was all a part of her plan.
The epilogue finds Julie pursuing an old passion of hers. She now has a thriving career as an on set photographer. Most importantly she seems happy with where she is. It’s the simplest feeling that can be extremely painful to obtain.
So while you may not actually be the worst person in the world, the world we live in today, a demanding, constantly evolving one full of self-proclaiming purpose, can make it far too easy to end up feeling like the worst person in the world. Something we all can relate to at one point or another.