The Worst Person in the World
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In this Norwegian coming-of-age drama Julie, played by Cannes Film Festival best actress winner Renate Reinsve, spends her late 20s and early 30s searching for love and a career, while simultaneously and unwittingly striving for self-actualization.
The film stars Renate Reinsve (Hvite gutter), Anders Danielsen Lie (Bergman Island) and Herbert Nordrum (Home for Christmas). While you most likely won’t recognize these actors, they are all equally engaging to watch. The film was directed by Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Eskil Vogt (Oslo, August 31st).
If you’ve ever had a hard time figuring out what you want out of a relationship and, well, life in general, then you will be able to relate to The Worst Person In The World’s curious protagonist Julie. The film, recently nominated for two Academy Awards, elegantly explores the emotional hazard that becoming an adult is, making it a funny yet heartbreaking viewing experience.
Trier uses a literary 12-chapter structure, bookended by a prologue and epilogue, to tell Julie’s story. The narrative takes place over four years and begins when Julie decides to ditch her plans to become a doctor and sets out on a quest to find love and meaning while living in contemporary Oslo. During this journey, she navigates relationships with two men: a 44-year-old graphic novelist named Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), and Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) a barista around Julie’s age. At 29 and again at 30, Julie finds it difficult to settle down — or even treat her lovers with the respect they deserve — as she is stuck in an existential crisis. Julie is waiting for meaning to miraculously appear in her life, anticipating an amazing destiny to fall in her lap.
Haven’t we all been there?
Julie expects her relationships with men and her career, if she can ever settle on one, to provide her with a proper, meaningful identity. She chooses a man who seems to have found his identity, but has he? Did she fall in love with the man or her fantasy version of that man?
The film, like life, is an emotional rollercoaster. Trier impeccably captures what it is to be young with so many choices in front of you, and the excitement that comes with choosing which road to take. But the director also taps into the anxiety and insecurity that appear when attempting to determine the “right road”— the path to happiness. The honest take on what a young adult relationship looks like after the honeymoon phase is over is what makes The Worst Person in the World unique and abundantly relatable even if you are no longer in your 20s or 30s.
Is Julie the worst person in the world? No. Of course she isn’t. Does she feel like it sometimes? Maybe. In reality she is a nuanced human being who is self-possessed, insightful, and intelligent while simultaneously aimless, flaky, and selfish. She is a tricky character, but Reinsve plays her with stunning grace that elicits empathy. The actress makes it impossible for the audience to judge Julie.
Each chapter of the film varies in length. While it’s clear that time is indeed passing, it’s never evident exactly how much time has gone by. Shot by cinematographer Kasper Tuxen, Oslo and its gorgeous Nordic skies are the perfect backdrop for Julie’s pursuit of love and meaning in modern times.
The Worst Person in the World is a fluidly told story not about love, but instead about self-awareness, acceptance, and persistent insecurity.
This is not a kid-friendly movie (due to subtitles, subject matter, and language), but it’s a compelling film for adults of all ages to consume.
The film, which premiered in competition at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, recently garnered two Oscar nominations for best international feature and best screenplay. Reinsve won Cannes’ award for best actress for her performance in the film. It’s also the third film in Trier’s “Oslo” trilogy, following Reprise (2006) and Oslo, August 31st (2011).