The Worst Person in the World review: An instant classic
Daniel Broadley | On 13, May 2022
Director: Joachim Trier
Cast: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum
“So, what do you do?” It’s the question we always ask, and are asked, at parties, gatherings, weddings – anywhere there are new people. For many in their mid-to-late-20s, the answer might not be so clear. They might have a job, but is it what they really want to do? They might be in a relationship, but is it the person they want to start a family with? They might seem “settled”, but do they feel like they’ve lived or experienced enough first?
In a similar vein to a Sally Rooney novel, this millennial angst is perfectly captured in Joachin Trier’s conclusion to his Oslo trilogy (following 2006’s Reprise and 2011’s Oslo, August 31st), and is a driving factor behind the decisions made by lead character Julie (a Cannes prize-winning Rante Reinsve). For those who have felt it, The Worst Person in the World will resonate with every cell in their body.
Julie starts out as a medical student before dabbling in psychology and finally landing on photography. She forms a loving and settled relationship with an older man, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) – a comic book artist ready to start a family – but she’s unsure she’s ready to have children. “What is it you’re waiting for?” Aksel asks her, but his question leaver her flummoxed. As Aksel becomes more successful and famous, Julie remains in her job at a bookshop. Bored, she wanders into a wedding party, where she encounters Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who works as a barista. They flirt, dance, and even bite one another, but resist the overwhelming urge to sleep with one another. Their encounter is intense, a glimmer of excitement in an otherwise mundane existence where nothing seems to change, improve or move forward despite getting older.
There are two sensational sequences that come at two of the film’s defining moments. One sees Julie pause time with the flick of a switch and spend the night with Eivind. Trier takes that youthful excitement and lust of meeting someone for the first time and bottles it up into one dream-like set-piece; wouldn’t we all want to pause time just once, to try out a new life and figure it all out? The second sees Julie take magic mushrooms with Eivind and his friends and confront her guilt about leaving Aksel and her issues with her disinterested dad.
So who is the worst person in The Worst Person in the World? Aksel, for his sexually graphic comics that lead him to go on an “anti-woke” rant on the radio? Julie for cheating? Her dad for being a bad father? Whoever it is, it’s hard to see any of them – but Julie especially (and perhaps not her dad) – as anything other than flawed, vulnerable humans who simply want to make the best of their limited time on this Earth, but aren’t always sure of how to go about it.
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This review was originally published during the 2021 London Film Festival.