Director: Joachim Trier
Cast: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum
Words – Rhiannon Topham.
Joachim Trier’s latest feature, The Worst Person in the World, offers a relatable and (dare I say it) refreshing take on drama, romance, comedy and elements of tragedy in the context of modern society.
The film’s protagonist, Julie (played by a spellbinding Renate Reinsve) feels a sense of restlessness in her life that is heightened as she progresses through the youthful liberty of her twenties. Her thirties are approaching, but she doesn’t feel like she’s found her place in the world yet. She finds inspiration in multiple places and industries, but never enough to pursue anything beyond the thrill of nascent interest.
Divided into 12 chapters (plus a prologue and epilogue), The Worst Person in the World is segmented as a montage of Julie’s life as she grapples with several internal conflicts: who to settle down with; what career to pursue; whether to keep giving her estranged father another chance; how to find a purpose in life without sacrificing pleasure or excitement for the new and undiscovered. “I feel like a spectator in my own life,” she says to her older lover Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), as she realises she needs to prioritise self-love before she can commit to romantic love.
Both of Julie’s main love interests throughout the film present her with different experiences of how love can be received and felt. Askel, a celebrated cartoonist, wants to start a family with Julie and makes this explicitly clear. Julie isn’t sure she wants children at all, and it’s during this period of ambiguity that she meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) at a wedding she gatecrashes. Like Julie, Eivind hasn’t quite figured out his long-term prospects, and their desire for one another is palpable.
Trier is as interested in the intensity of these relationships in their early stages as the mundanity and monotony of a reality that, just like her confused career aspirations, was never going to match up to that first rush of electricity.
Julie, of course, is not literally ‘the worst person in the world’. But this title and her character speak to the audience in myriad ways. How can we retain our agency and autonomy, without coming across as selfish and self-possessed? Indeed, is it wrong to be those things if it ultimately results in self-discovery? Julie may prioritise her own desires and pleasures, but she is also strikingly compassionate and willing to shed her defensive armour if it means reaching a place of acceptance and mutual understanding, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.
Feeling like a terrible person because pursuing our personal interests may come at the emotional expense of the people we care about is a prospect that many of us, particularly women, are often too scared to face. But we know that what may seem harsh on the surface is rarely so straightforward. Life and love are beautiful and ugly, tragic and comedic, exciting and frightening; all manner of contradictions simultaneously. The Worst Person in the World captures this complexity in a way so few feature films have before.