Writer and director Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” finally received a wide-release in the United States on Feb. 4 after dazzling movie fans and critics alike at its premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. After having the chance to watch the film for myself, it’s no surprise why Trier’s slick, stylish and subversive film has won over the hearts and minds of so many viewers.
The opening montage thrusts the audience into the chaos and confusion that is confronting our main character, Julie, and many other 20-somethings all around the world. Initially, Julie is studying to become a surgeon. She pivots to psychology after realizing that surgery is too precise, but she quickly loses interest in that and decides to become a photographer. In the midst of all this, we catch some brief glimpses into Julie’s love life, whether it’s breaking up with a long-term boyfriend or hooking up with a photography client.
Renate Reinsve, who won the Best Actress Award at Cannes for her performance, makes the character of Julie feel distinctly real and immediately human. Her naivete about the world around her combined with the fear of getting old and becoming an adult make Julie instantly relatable.
We seem to find some stability, though, once Julie meets Askel, a grounded and mature character played by Anders Danielsen Lie. Julie and Aksel have a significant age gap (15 years), but, unlike another film released in 2021 with a notable age gap between its main characters, this gap serves a narrative purpose. Askel has a steady job and wants to start a family whereas Julie, who is working part-time at a bookstore to supplement her photography business, still doesn’t quite know who she is and certainly doesn’t want to have kids anytime soon.
Of course, the film demonstrates this divide in other ways. Following their initial meeting, we jump forward in time to Julie and Aksel spending a weekend at Askel’s parents house. Julie feels alone and out of place in an environment filled with older adults whose lives seem entirely put together. Trier subtly and elegantly builds a quiet tension within this first chapter (the film is told in 12 chapters, a prologue and epilogue) that sticks with you for every subsequent interaction between Julie and Aksel.
But this wouldn’t be a romantic comedy without a love triangle, and Julie’s restless nature eventually leads to her meeting Herbert Nordrum’s charming and stoic Eivind. At the time of their meeting — at a party that Julie has crashed — both Julie and Eivind are in a relationship, and neither one wants to cheat. So, the two engage in alcohol-soaked conversation and strange and intimate acts of affection, like smelling each other’s armpits or watching one another go to the bathroom. You can’t help but laugh and secretly hope that these two might share a kiss.
It’s the moments like these that hit on what makes “Worst Person” so successful. Trier’s ability to take the framework of a tired genre and a series of character archetypes and imbue these things with stylish visuals and a “La La Land”-esque musicality makes the film a delightful watch.
There’s also Trier’s ability to incorporate a large amount of cynicism and meta-commentary on things like cancel culture, neoliberalism and the film industry that never feels as if it’s advocating for problematic behavior, but simply asks the viewer to think critically about art and artistic value.
Ultimately, “The Worst Person in the World” eloquently demonstrates how every component of a film works in tandem to create a wholly unique experience, even when working within a given framework. The cinematography, the score and the Oscar-nominated screenplay all coalesce and combine into one conglomerate cohort under Trier’s singular creative vision, and what a vision it is.
John Scott is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JScott050901
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