'The Worst Person in the World': A Beautiful Exploration of Love, Life, and Indecisiveness
Updated: Jan 23
There is a universal need for many people in their 20s and 30s to find their place in the world. It's something that is impressed upon us from a young age, and many feel a sense of aimlessness because they feel that they haven't found it yet. Joachim Trier's latest film The Worst Person in the World captures that feeling so innately, and explores the struggle of finding oneself in today's society. Specifically, we follow the journey of Julie, a young woman navigating through relationships, career aspirations, and trying to find where she belongs in present day Oslo. We see her life change over the course of four years, as she falls in and out of love, faces harsh realities, and try to find some sense of fulfillment. It's a story that's sure to resonate with anyone who has ever felt out of place in the world, and is a raw, yet heartfelt portrait of a woman finding herself.
The story is broken up in 12 chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue, which gives the film an episodic structure. In each chapter, we follow different aspects of Julie's life, whether that be in her love life, professional life, or some other pursuit. For the most part, these chapters are straightforward, and present a rather realistic portrayal of the struggles that people in their 20's and 30's face in this day and age. The film uses its modern setting rather well, and doesn't come off as patronizing or forced as similar films tend to do. Given that the film is partially a romance, this is refreshing as many modern romcoms and films about 20 and 30-somethings tend to overdo it when it comes to adding in contemporary components, such as smartphones, social media, and current events, to name a few. This film has just enough of these details to remind us that it is a contemporary piece, and feels all the more authentic for it. As a result, it ends up being one of the more honest depictions of millennial life to ever come out, and really struck me by how intricately it explores some of its ideas and themes.
This is my introduction to the work of Joachim Trier, who has made a name for himself as one of Norway's most notable filmmakers. I didn't have any true reference point for what kind of film this might be, so I was highly intrigued by his style of filmmaking. He tackles real human issues and emotions so gracefully and thoughtfully, yet he also shows that he is quite gifted as a visual storyteller. He uses the camera to capture the emotionality of the characters and the narrative nicely, as some moments feel light and fleeting, while there are others where you can feel the whole weight of the scene on you. While Trier is partially to thank here, it's Kasper Tuxen's beautiful cinematography that really stuck out to me. The way he composes certain shots, as well as the use of light and color was a highlight for me, and the distinct camera movements (especially in the more fantastical moments of the film) are quite effective. This might be one of the best-looking films I've seen in a while, and so much of it has to do with Tuxen's work behind the camera.
One of the most common sentiments about this film have to do with Renate Reinsve's performance, and it's not hard to see why she has gotten so much praise. She gives such an incredibly naturalistic performance, and is so deep into the character, that she feels like a real person. It's such a full, often subtle performance, that stunned me, and is one of the most human performances I've seen in recent memory. It's easily one of my favorite performances of the past year, and she deserves every bit of acclaim she has received. In addition to Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie is excellent as Aksel, one of her love interests. Lie is also fully deep into his character, and gets some of the film's more emotional moments. He nails the smaller details of the character, and feels just as authentic as Reinsve. The two also have great chemistry and are electric in their scenes together.
The film's episodic structure is one of the things I liked the most about it, as it allows the story to feel more realistic, but certain segments do drag on a bit too long for my taste. On top of this, the film does lack a bit of closure, which left a strange taste in my mouth given that it felt like it was building to something more definite. Perhaps the point that Trier is trying to make is that the issues and pressure that Julie, and many others experience isn't easily resolved, and are likely to persist for an indeterminate amount of time. Maybe this aspect will click with me a little better on rewatch, but it definitely felt strange to me on this viewing.
Beyond that, I felt that this film was a powerful character study, and such a great portrayal of modern life. Even though the film takes place in Norway, there is a universal quality to it that should speak to people all around the world. Trier truly has a gift for exploring larger concepts in a way that doesn't feel heavy handed or patronizing, and he handles these with great maturity. I definitely need to go back and watch his other films, as I was highly impressed with his style here. He is a truly talented filmmaker, and this was a great introduction to his work. This film really struck a chord with me, as I have felt that same sense of indecisiveness that Julie feels throughout the film. The film also just felt so honest to me, and spoke to me in a way that few films can. It is beautiful, raw, insightful, and such a great exploration of the struggles and pressure felt by an entire generation.