Directed by Joachim Trier; Written by Eskild Vogt and Joachim Trier
Steering your little boat through the foggy sea that is modern life is not easy. Disorientation takes hold, and jagged rocks abound as you try to navigate partners, academic majors, life goals, familial estrangement, all a few of the perils on an ever-expanding list of hurdles that delineate into the trivial. The feelings they instill aren’t trivial, however, and their havoc are on full display in Joachim Trier’s excellent The Worst Person In the World, which tracks Julie, a twenty-something and later thirty-something who tries to understand her own inner life and the real-life consequences that inner life creates.
A prologue details her college years, where she leaps out of med school to study psychology, to later drop out completely to do photography. Hair style and sense of dress change with it, self-exploration in full effect. Then come the relationships and inherent questions about her life’s direction and its inventory that will define the next decade of her life.
For anyone struggling to make sense of their own life, The Worst Person In The World will feel like locking eyes with a stranger in the subway and suddenly not feel as alone any more. Whether it’s study, job, or significant others, Julie’s insecurities and doubts are our own, and Trier elevates it from simple woe-is-me to elevated interrogation, weaving hilarity, irreverence, and provocation into a story that is both devastating and elating along the way. Heartfelt and compassionate, Trier understands modern life’s conflicts better than most, but has the gift of storytelling to have it come across. He’s a master, conjuring ennui and depression while delicately sifting loose some deeper truths from the murk.
Renate Reinsve won Best Actress in Cannes for her work as Julie, and it’s easy to see why. Committed in Julie’s worst moments and bright in her best, Reinsve’s work in embodying this human whirlwind takes some doing, and her ability to bring out and make plain even the most nebulous of coming-of-adult-age emotions hits you like a sledgehammer.
The film’s biggest provocation is in its title, and yet it shouldn’t be. Themes of adultery, callousness, egotism are dealt with through Julie’s escapades with men, yet the fleeting nature of some of them and their sometimes far-reaching consequences wouldn’t even register had Julie been born Julius. It’s a brief point of commentary from Trier in a film that has much more universal topics under consideration, and how he manages to make something as intensely personal as buried resentment at an ex-partner’s misogynistic work feel universal is a wonder.
What’s perhaps most striking about The Worst Person In The World is how it’s ultimately a lighter feature than Trier’s other films until now. His visual flair is looser now, more playful, imaginative, and it’s an exhilarating step for him as a filmmaker, with two high points found in moments of release for Julie. One involves the ability to stop time, stop life, in order to fully live in a desired moment, and the other sees her literally pull the plug and flick a sanitary product at those that affronts her – catharsis.
A vivid and insightful snapshot of its time, but The Worst Person In The World’s deft handling of personal choice, agency, and pursuit of happiness is likely to make it an evergreen for all of time.