Julie feels like she’s the worst person in the world. And in some ways, she is. But what Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World does right is that it never demonizes her for it. To simply be human is beautiful. But in many ways, it is the worst. It’s constantly complicated and rarely ever goes as planned. By no malicious nature of our own, many of us try to not be awful people, but it oftentimes feels like that becomes the end result no matter what. In 12 chapters, we witness a partial journey over four years of Julie’s life. And while 12 chapters or 4 years may not feel adequate enough to succinctly break down a character that contains so many multitudes, Trier achieves it seemingly effortlessly. It’s a film that bares the soul of itself as well as its characters from the get-go, never once stopping for a Hollywood moment so common to the genre. Instead, we receive a genuinely realistic look at a woman simply trying to find her place in the world. Not to mention all the successes and failures that come with the territory.
Julie is as important to the rom-com as Barry Egan was in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love over a decade ago. A deeply refreshing take to see on film, Julie doesn’t have it all figured out. She switches career paths like it’s nothing, constantly feeling lost among those more established in life. Tired of the usual interrogative small talk, she lives life her way and still feels conflicted. How can one be rebellious and still feel completely boxed in? Is it life itself, or does the problem lie within her? And while she has all these questions and inner turmoil, she never feels adequately equipped to find the answers. In an argument she has, she simply states she just wants to feel things sometimes without feeling the need to explain them. Explanations can make things messy, and when dealing with something that can sometimes be as irrational or contradictory as emotion, it feels like a guarantee that something will get lost in translation. So, to see Julie simply make these decisions out of a mix of rash impulse and genuine fear of being held back, we get to witness a character so alive and brimming with potential; even if she may not see that potential within herself at times.
Trier makes use of the usual tropes in films such as these, but also subverts them at every possible turn. It’s a film that is as genuinely thrilling as it is bursting with charm, and a big part of this charm is the incredibly lovely Renate Reinsve. She brings an energy to this film that is simply a marvel. It feels like a breath of fresh air to see how freely she treats this role, from party hopping and meeting strangers to confronting old flames in moments of utter grief. Just as the film does tonally, Reinsve is able to communicate the ever-changing line between unbridled enthusiasm and deep fear of the future that lays before us all. A moment of what should feel like catharsis instead rips the floor from under us with a devastating third act reveal that sets up a gorgeous, and simply perfect, epilogue. When a script and actress are working in tandem this well, major success seems bound to happen. The Worst Person in the World just so happens to find the perfect storm of it all amidst the unsurety of life itself.
At one point in the film, the question is asked, “When is life supposed to start”? A question like this is comical to me, partially because it’s something a majority of people, myself included, often struggle with. As humans, we like to look at benchmarks throughout our lives as being these stepping stones into something larger. Whether it be hitting an age milestone, or moving out for the first time, or meeting the love of your life (or so you think), humans are always looking for the next big shift in their life. Even though we are deeply afraid of change, we look towards it to signify a defining moment in what the rest of your life may hold. Yet funnily enough, all that searching seems to blind to us to the life going on around us at all times. We seem to find ourselves in these situations long before the change is ever even noticed. And on some level, Julie feels this, but doesn’t seem to listen to herself when she thinks it. So, as we watch Julie navigate through her own choices and adventures, we contemplate our own lives, broken into chapters based off our own unique criteria. But at the end of the day, it’s most important that we just live in the moment.
As this film took me through the entire spectrum of emotions, I found myself thinking of one of my favorite quotes. To quote Walt Whitman in his poem “Song of Myself”, he writes, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes).” To me, it’s profound in how oftentimes, we criticize those who are contradictory, when in reality, it is impossible to not change as a human over time. Obviously, there are contradictions that can be hurtful or cruel in intent, but Whitman is regarding something else entirely. It’s the fact that while we may try to be the best version of ourselves, sometimes it may take many tries to get there. What may seem like acting irrationally or based solely off emotion, while not always the most ideal approach to life, is sometimes the most necessary move. Trier taps into this notion in a way that few other films do, and The Worst Person in the World grapples with these ever-conflicting choices. If you ever feel like you’re the worst person you know, chances are you’re just being a bit hard on yourself. But life is hard too, so there’s no point in helping out. Like Julie, do what feels right, even if you can’t explain the reasoning to anybody, yourself included. Life often has an odd way of working itself out, even if it may take some time to get there. After all, that journey is where the true beauty in life lies.
The Worst Person in the World is currently playing in select theaters.