What does it take to be able to find yourself? How many ventures will you go through, how many versions of yourself will you discard until you find the one that feels right? What kind of people will you meet to get there, and discard when you’ve moved on? These are some of the underlying questions that Joachim Trier’s film “The Worst Person in the World” asks.
There is always something so alluring about films that have their characters going through life’s tasks and trying to find themselves. It’s comforting, yet distressful all at once. Which is a lot of what Julie (Renate Reinsve) goes through for the entire film. Trier goes for a book-like approach to the making of this film, the third in his “Oslo Trilogy” of films alongside “Reprise” and “Oslo, 31 August”. There’s a prologue, 12 chapters, and an epilogue. And they’re all different chapters of Julie’s life. In the end, something has changed or been discovered and we’re on to the next chapter.
But it’s interesting watching Julie in her life and these changes. She changes in between each chapter slightly, but not that much really. Starting, Julie is a med school student but finds this to be something she’s not really suited for. Then, she decides she’ll study psychology. Then, she meets various men and finds that she thinks photography is what draws her in most. She drops out of school and uses the money to buy a camera. This is probably when she could have called it, pooled everything in, and really taken off. But she doesn’t. Because she meets somebody else now, at a bar. In comes the acclaimed comic-book artist Aksel (Anderson Danielsen Lie), and the next part of Julie’s life in the first major relationship we see her in. That’s the prologue.
Everything is going pretty well. But Julie has drifted away from her photography. When visiting Aksel’s parents, she’s asked “So what are you doing now” showing that her variance of passions is something people have noticed and latched on to. But Aksel already let them know she’s delved into the world of writing. It’s not really detailed what kind of writing, but she does later have an article published pretty successfully. But not after meeting somebody new, Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who works as a barista. This is where Julie again will get torn to her next part of life. She’s 30 now, and still working part-time at a bookstore. The two meet at a party and spend the entire time teetering the line between playful flirting, and cheating on their respective partners.
Eventually, Julie and Aksel split after an incredibly visual motif where time stops, and Julie runs to Eivind in the Barcode Project of Oslo and they finally cross that line together, with nobody to witness their trespasses but themselves. She loves Eivind for the reasons she couldn’t continue with Aksel. Aksel wants to move on with life and have kids. Julie still doesn’t know what she wants, and can’t stand to see him waste his life and desires waiting for her to catch up, saying that she’s too flaky. He hits back saying that’s exactly what he needs to pull him out of his intense drawing board sessions where he’ll lose himself. So she’s drawn to Eivind because they’re more alike than she and Aksel are different.
Truly though, this is a really great character study of a woman who is shaped so much by the world around her, but at the same time incredibly resilient against influence from other people, not wanting to follow in anybody’s steps or play along to their plans. In one scene on her 30th birthday, narration plays in place of her thoughts and reminisces over her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and so on and how their lives were different and what they each achieved by the age of 30. This leads her though to never keep growing with her life as it goes on. She’s stuck growing, and then almost immediately receding into the previous stage she was at.
The last part of this film though is probably the most heartbreaking and holds much of the film’s thesis in those final conversations where the most growth and understanding of life take place. Where Julie finally starts to understand that she need only go through life by her own path, rather than needing anybody else to help her through it all. Which is a lesson maybe a lot of people know. Too much of life is looking for somebody else, whether that be the never-ending search for a partner in life or looking to emulate somebody else’s success. Whereas what this film is saying, is that none of that matters. Be true to yourself, be kind, and everything else will fall into place. You’ll be just fine.
“The Worst Person in the World” had its premiere at the 2021 Canne Film Festival in competition for the Palme d’Or. Neon acquired distribution for the US, and MUBI picked up rights for India, the UK, and Ireland. No official release date stands, but it is set to be added into the Criterion Collection sometime in 2022.