The Worst Person in the World
Joachim Trier’s newest takes on the existentialism of young generations
Today’s youngest generations live in one of the most high-pressured environments ever. The onslaught of the internet and social media has launched opinions, comparisons, and an oversaturation of information, which leads to such crushing expectations that it’s easy to become paralyzed. While this would make perfect fodder to explore in a typical dark Joachim Trier film (his last was the horror thriller Thelma (2017)), the Norwegian director has taken this subject into the romantic genre.
The Worst Person in the World (2021) follows Julie (Renate Reinsve), a young twenty-something who is struggling to define herself as she flits around jobs (doctor, photographer, psychologist) and partners.
Trier doesn’t make a straightforward romance, himself defining his take on The Worst Person in the World as “a rom-com for people who hate rom-coms.” As such the expected structures and beats that you would expect to come are thrown out the window. The result is a wandering and freewheeling narrative that rightly matches the search for meaning that its protagonist embarking.
Trier litters his film with vignettes of Julie’s journey, how her expectations are challenged and molded. There are magical subtle moments, such as Julie connecting with a man at a wedding and sharing an incredibly intimate but non-sexual night, such as watching each other pee, illustrating that emotional connection or indeed a romantic one need not be physical. In another highlight moment, Julie seems to snap, and literally pauses the entire world running through a frozen city center to her fantasy. It is these small moments that Trier is able to amplify and sprinkle with brilliance, that construct the transporting power of The Worst Person in the World.
Middle-aged Trier is able to capture the mindset of this younger and suffocated generation in a way that many younger filmmakers and artists haven’t been able to do. This is not too surprising, as many times the person who can provide a diagnosis has view it from the outside. However, Trier should still be commended for illustrating the emotional turmoil that the young people of today undergo. It is easy as a young viewer to feel identified with Julie’s desire to simply be left alone, to not have to define herself or organize her feelings and thoughts. It is this emotional messiness that the oversaturated world of today has robbed younger generations of. The title of The Worst Person in the World sharply alludes to the ubiquitous turmoil, self-hate, and pressure that many of us heap on ourselves in unconscious self-flagellating ways. It is this crazy atmosphere that fuels Julie to want to dance and freewheel her way to her desires and impulses. While a more conventional film might judge her for this, Trier takes on an Almodovarian approach and praises her for it.
Trier is blessed with Reinsve whom he supposedly rescued from retiring from acting, after she was having difficulty finding roles. Reinsve is all-engrossing as Julie, pulling us into her uncertain journey. Hers is a difficult role, which could easily have come across as unlikeable or capricious, yet she is able to shift that perspective for viewers into being a lost soul who is simply seeking, what it is she’s seeking… do any of us ever know?
The Worst Person in the World is a beautiful film of the kind of wandering existentialism that younger generations, especially today, feel. With a structure and tone that matches the inner journey of the protagonist, Trier’s film becomes a truly immersive experience. The crisp dialogue, transporting directing, and engulfing performances make The Worst Person in the World a true modern classic, and a therapeutic watch for select viewers.