Review: “The Worst Person in the World”

Arts & Entertainment

Anthony Pantalone, Staff

Joachim Trier’s 2021 feature “The Worst Person in the World” explores the endless purgatory of a person’s 20s and the uncertainty and crushing anxiety that coincide with the freedom of adulthood. Set in Oslo, Norway, the film follows Julie — portrayed masterfully by Renate Reinsve (“Welcome to Norway,” “Oslow”) — as she waits for her life to start. After dropping out of medical school and switching various career paths, Julie is unsure of what lies ahead. She bounces between career paths in psychology, photography and commentary writing. She finds herself in a relationship with a man in his 40s. At the beginning of the movie, she does not know what preferred shape her life will ever take. The next two hours detail the experiences of the protagonist as she grapples with various relationships, doubts about the future and the pervasive feeling of being stuck.

         Nominated for Best International Feature Film and Best Original Screenplay at this year’s  Academy Awards, the film has already received widespread critical acclaim. While set to face stiff competition from Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” in the International category, “The Worst Person in the World” may hold a realistic chance of winning Best Original Screenplay. The Cannes Film Festival in summer 2021 even nominated the film for the highly coveted Palme d’Or before awarding it to Julia Ducournau’s “Titane.” Reinsve obtained the Best Actress award at this film competition though — an achievement appropriate for her entrancing performance.

Oslo Pictures

The nomination for Best Screenplay is an inspired choice by the Academy, because the script from Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier easily serves as the film’s strongest quality. Split into a prologue, twelve chapters and an epilogue, each section varies in length and details pivotal moments for the main character traversing her 20s. This story-telling device feels ingenious as it progresses the story forward easily while effectively showing how each character grows over time. The prologue finds the main character pivot from various career paths as she faces indecisions. Each chapter then focuses on a specific period in this young woman’s life and slowly creeps towards a crescendo in the final chapters and epilogue that reveal deeper insights about life and love. As a coming-of-age film, a theater goer already knows the main character will learn an important lesson and undergo a transformation, but Joachim Trier somewhat subverts genre norms with this movie. The screenplay takes the audience on an imaginative route to the film’s finale by making you feel like you are reading chapters in a book about this young person’s struggles. Certain sequences utilize animation and hallucinations, and one scene even shows the main character stopping the world around her. This particular sequence was my personal favorite scene andshows Julie flip a light switch and freeze almost every single person around her in place for an entire day. She then runs through the quiet, sun-soaked streets of Oslo in a moment of jubilation and glee. The rest of the day is spent on a date with a potential love interest with whom she had shared a night years earlier. The scene feels utterly euphoric and overcomes the anguish and regret of youth. When one feels stuck in a career, living situation or relationship, they often somewhat desire to diverge on a different unknown path. There is an underlying desire to try out a new relationship, quit their job or even fundamentally change their life. In reality, a person cannot stop time to find what they actually want before settling down and making a life for themselves. The protagonist does though. Her own freedom from the constraints of mundane life and the opinions of other people reflect the strong desire of many young people to freeze everything and break away from their current life trajectory.

Oslo Pictures

As someone who recently turned 21 and now faces the rest of my 20s laid out before me, the film strikes a terrifyingly relatable chord. It’s difficult to figure out what I should be doing — what to reasonably yearn for within a career or a fulfilling existence. I don’t think I ever truly will know. I also think that no one ever truly does either. This film at least makes me feel less alone in this search. It presents the idea that some fulfillment can be simply found in the journey and not just by reaching a desired destination, career or relationship. It’s a soothing reminder that humans always have the ability to find some semblance of stability throughout the chaos of youthful instability. Julie continuously does not feel secure and stable even though she continuously grows older. Her resistance to getting her life together causes this protagonist to continuously make misguided decisions and view herself as “the worst person in the world.” The inherent doubt and indecision that comes with being an adult must make every young person “the worst in the world” to some degree.

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