Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World: A Beautiful, Tragic Portrait of Life
The greatest struggle in life is the quest for direction. It is a journey we all must take, and the path is far less clear for some. This direction is crucial in many ways, serving as a guide for our lives and helping us reach our goals. One circumstance that needs guidance is our career choice. It helps us determine our careers or the person we will become since it allows us to tackle our passions and discover our strengths. Some of us have the fortune of choosing a career that suits our interests, but this isn’t the case for others.
Whether it be schoolwork, college, or just general life, there is always a struggle in choosing a career.
We also need direction in our love lives. There is often a struggle in choosing a mate or keeping a relationship alive in a romantic sense.
We also need direction in our social lives. There is a struggle in deciding whom to associate with and whom to keep distance from in a social sense.
Simply put, there is a constant struggle in finding direction in life, be it career, love, or lifestyle. To play this quest for direction, we must make decisions while leading our lives, and it can often be tricky. This is a daily struggle for those who are indecisive by nature, but the worst part about it is that the battle never ends. In a way, it can never end, as there will always be a new situation in your life that hasn’t been experienced before or that you couldn’t have imagined even a few weeks ago. This is the crux of Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World. He explores the complex crises in life flawlessly in a psychologically intense yet very human and relatable way. While not everyone on this quest will find themselves in a situation like the one in the film, it is no less of a struggle for most of us, and there are millions of others that can relate to its message. For a movie that is at its core about failures and uncertainties in finding direction in life and choosing a path that will bring you the most happiness, it is hard to imagine a more fitting title.
The film is broken up into twelve chapters with a prologue and epilogue that centers around the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve), who is trying to find her way in life. As the film opens with the prologue, we see her at a crossroads, indecisive about her future or perhaps what career she should choose. She is at an age when many people try to take the lead and decide what they want to do and pursue for the rest of their lives. For Julie, who is impulsive as most young people are, this doesn’t come easily, and she often finds herself making decisions along the way with many unknown consequences. She made snap decisions as she studied medicine, psychology, and photography. Her negligence in her choices made her look naive, and it made her search for the best path in life a bit more complicated. She tried to find the best combination of her experiences and studies but was never quite satisfied. In a way, she was a child in an adult’s body. She would say and do things without really thinking them through. There was a recklessness in her decisions that further made her indecisiveness a bit more apparent. Still, at the same time, this only added to the depth of her character and made her search for direction all the more relatable. It was only after she met Aksel Williams (Anders Danielsen Lie), a graphic novelist 15 years older than her, at a party when she began a relationship with him and started to experience the real meaning of life.
Chapter 1 is the start of the journey she embarked on. Now she is in the “real world,” working at a bookshop, is passionate about writing, and has to deal with everything she wasn’t prepared for on her own. With Aksel in his parents’ house on the weekend, what started out as a fun get-together quickly became something serious. When Aksel discussed the idea of having a family with her, she started to get overly emotional and sensitive. She was, in fact, deeply troubled by the idea of having kids, but she couldn’t articulate her reasons for not wanting it. While she knew that she wanted to have children at some point, she told Aksel that she wanted to do more with her life, that something was missing in her life, and that she just had to fill it with her life experiences until she was ready to settle down on motherhood. She felt confused and conflicted with her feelings which were at odds with what she was saying in their argument, so she abruptly stopped the conversation. Two days later, in the morning, she saw Aksel having fun with his nieces and nephews and drawing together. She smiled at them with reluctance. There is no escaping the fact that Julie is indecisive and impulsive in life. She goes from extreme highs to lows very quickly, and it is hard to decipher what she is thinking or feeling from one moment to the next. She says what she feels but then changes her mind and will do anything to avoid conflict. She is susceptible and needs a lot of reassurance, which is a bit of an obstacle in a relationship. She is unsure of everything around her and what to do in life. However, one thing is certain, her relationship with Aksel would bring her many new experiences and force her to grow a lot as a person. It would also go from a deep love towards a more distant relationship psychologically, which would affect the film’s mood and direction considerably.
Chapters 2–3 are the start of the real struggle for Julie. As she grips with the reality of life and has committed herself to a loving relationship, she begins to change into a more realistic, grown-up person. She still has no idea what she wants to do in life, but her uncertainty becomes more focused. She becomes more reflective, and she deals with the mundaneness of life. It involves having goals, making compromises, and having a sense of direction. We saw this change when she left Aksel’s launch event for one of his acclaimed works and crashed a wedding party in Oslo she didn’t even know about. She met Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a coffee barista, who was immediately drawn to her despite being in a committed relationship. They spent the entire night together, talking, drinking, and having fun without falling for each other.
To avoid cheating on their partners, they performed crazy epic dares like biting each other’s arms, smelling their sweat, and watching each other urinate. After their encounter, they parted ways and went back to their lives. Indeed, they felt something for each other, but they didn’t act on it because they knew it was wrong and it would ruin the purpose of what they did at the party. This was a turning point for Julie as something came to her mind. What she experienced that night was a test on her relationship with Aksel, a test of her commitment, and a test of her ability to stand on her own. She felt the world before her and was overwhelmed with life. She realized that life isn’t a bed of roses and will always be filled with dilemmas that will have to be dealt with. Just like what she did with her conversation with Aksel about motherhood, she bogged herself down by the epiphany. Sometime later, she wrote an article about her preferences in oral sex. With Aksel being very impressed with what she wrote, he told her to publish it online even though he has some disfavors. Eventually, the article received a great deal of attention online which she told her friends and family.
They say life begins at 40, but for Julie, it starts at her 30th birthday. Celebrating it with Aksel and her grandmother in her divorced mother’s home, we got to know Julie’s family in Chapter 4. We learn that her estranged father didn’t make it to her birthday celebration because of his back pain. This wasn’t the first time Julie had faced her father’s absence in her life. She said that there was always something wrong with him that he couldn’t visit her, so she’s the one that needs to do the visiting. As they celebrate her birthday, we are introduced to Julie’s maternal great-grandmothers in a fast photo montage, some of them having children at the age of 30, being a widow at the age of 30, and dying before turning 30. This information seemed to pressure and make Julie reflect on her own life now that she’s finally 30 years old. Days later, Julie and Aksel visited her father, who remarried another woman and has his own family. When Julie asked her father about the article that she wrote, he seemed to make up some excuses like getting the link to work in the email and his PC acting up. When Aksel told her father about their beautiful home, he, again, made up reasons which could be real or not, but either way, it is clear that he wasn’t interested nor doesn’t want to see his daughter, which is partly why he didn’t come to the party.
As her father’s absence in her life is consistent with the lack of interest he had in her, Julie felt defeated, remorseful, and disappointed. There’s a feeling of emptiness that is common in her life. She realized that there was this one thing she wanted to do in her life to fill that emptiness but couldn’t seem to grasp it. She fails to do so because she keeps getting herself embrangled with issues that are too complex for her to handle. There’s this disconnection between her thoughts and actions and what she says, and she has difficulty expressing her feelings and is very emotional. It’s making her life confusing and difficult to handle. She feels like she’s in a rut and is at the whim of the world around her.
Things will change drastically in Chapter 5 for Julie. She unexpectedly met Eivind and his girlfriend, Sunniva, in the bookshop she’s working at. Eivind confessed to her that he couldn’t stop thinking about her after their fun encounter at the party. He told her to meet him at the bakery he works at only if she wanted to. It made Julie contemplate her relationship with Aksel. Obviously, she was fond of Aksel, but she was starting to get a sense of dissatisfaction with him. One night, when Aksel with his brother and sister-in-law talked about his grievance on the creative control of the cinematic adaptation of his comic book series Bobcat, Julie started to get cast down, feeling left out. She got the sense that Aksel was getting distant from her even though she’s really the one getting distant from him because she’s feeling like she’s losing her grip on life and is doing nothing about it. She realized that her relationship with Aksel isn’t fulfilling her the way she wants. She also felt that she had a closer relationship with Aksel than Eivind, but the latter could get under her skin in a way that Aksel never did.
One morning, she started to lose the sense of reality, then the world literally stopped. No one can move or talk. The whole world was frozen except for her. She went to the bakery to see Eivind, who wasn’t affected by the disillusion. They went on a date and spent the entire day together while the whole world was frozen. The following morning, everything went back to normal. Julie told Aksel what she really felt about their relationship. She said she couldn’t continue being with him because she felt like she was losing herself and her life was passing her by. There was nothing to blame on Aksel as Julie told him that it was just bad timing, that they both met in different phases of their lives, and they both wanted different things.
On top of that, Julie told him that she loves him, but she also doesn’t love him. There’s perplexity in the way she said it, but at the same time, there is confidence and relief like it’s one of the things she had done correctly in her life. She didn’t want to spoil their relationship, but she needed to be herself, which wasn’t working with him. She decided to end things with him but didn’t expect it to be this soon. It was a hard thing for her to do, but she knew it was for the best, for the best of both of them, as she told him that he deserved a better woman than her and that she has always had high regards for him.
Chapter 6 focuses on Eivind’s journey before he met Julie. We witnessed his relationship with Sunniva and how it all went downhill. At first, they were happy together, but when Sunniva found herself increasingly drawn to her Sami ancestry and roots, she started to pull away from Eivind. He, just like Julie, felt like he couldn’t see his future with Sunniva, like he had no idea where he was going or what he was supposed to do. He felt like he was in a directionless space. He couldn’t see the end result of their relationship and didn’t know what to do. All of these changed when he attended the party and met Julie. He knew what he wanted, and he immediately knew how to get it. He started to feel for her as much as he was curious about her. It’s like they are two puzzle pieces that came together to make a complete picture. When he met Julie, he knew that he had found what he was looking for. They found each other at the right time, have the same drive and ambitions, and are on the same page. They are both directionless and purposeless. They are the worst people in the world, and they fell in love with each other.
The following three chapters are all about Julie and Eivind and their relationship. They moved in together and lived the good life, just like what we would expect from a couple in love. They spent their time together and had fun. We saw their relationship blooming, and it’s clear that they were in a good place. One night during a party with Eivind’s friends, they all consumed these magic mushrooms, making them all trip balls. Julie hallucinated and experienced scenes where she confronted her fears and anger for parenthood and her father. These hallucinations made Julie stronger and mature because she finally and technically faced the issues she avoided and ran away from in life. These were the exact feelings and emotions that she needed to be open, honest, confident, and to move forward in her life. The following night, she told Eivind that she could be herself with him entirely without restrictions and pressure. Months later, it’s Christmas, it’s snowing, and Aksel’s Bobcat film will soon be released to the public. One night while exercising at a gym, we see Julie watching a TV interview featuring Aksel and the criticism surrounding his work. In the interview, Aksel and the host went back and forth over his controversial content, which led to a heated argument between them. The way Aksel defended his work sparked a strong reaction in Julie, a sense of satisfaction. She was excited and moved by the passion, the conviction, and the boldness that Aksel showed in the interview, making us wonder about her relationship and future. At this point, Julie is just hard to read like a wildcard. Her actions and choices are unpredictable, and she is steering the narrative of her story at all times. She’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma, but we can expect big things from her in the following chapters.
Chapters 10–11 are chapters of revelations. We learned more about Julie and her relationship with Eivind, as well as the circumstances that broke them apart. On a typical day for Julie working at the bookshop, she found out from Aksel’s brother that Aksel has contracted an inoperable pancreatic cancer. This news was a big blow and had a profound effect on her, who had been oblivious to Aksel’s fate until that point. It was the first time she had ever considered what the future holds for her life. She had never been so aware of the uncertainties in life and her place in the world. It caused her to become introspective and question her purpose and direction in life. Back at her apartment by-and-by, Julie and Eivind argued about a short story she once wrote and scrapped. Eivind thought the story was good and was all about Julie, but she told him that it wasn’t about her, and she suddenly became moody and criticized and trivialized Eivind for no reason at all. This was the turning point of their relationship. We can see that Julie and Eivind are in a bad place and that their relationship is on the verge of crumbling.
Little did we know that Julie’s moodiness comes from the fact that she is pregnant. She didn’t tell Eivind because he had no interest in having children, which made her feel even worse than before. The next day, Julie went to the hospital to visit Aksel. She hadn’t seen him in months, and she was interested in catching up with him. Seeing each other for the first time in a long time, Aksel and Julie had a heart-to-heart talk about their current situation. Aksel told Julie that he had no future and could only look back. This prospect devastated him and crushed his spirit. He was scared and knew that he was dying, and there was nothing he could do about it. He had nothing to look forward to, and he was at the end of his life. This was the first time Aksel had ever been vulnerable and honest with Julie. When they were in a relationship together, he was always the strong one in control. He was the one who had the final say and made all the decisions. But this time, it was different. Julie felt like she had the power for the first time, but she could do nothing about it to help him.
He told her about everything he was thinking and feeling, and she was there to listen to him and comfort him. He talked about watching his favorite movies repeatedly, listening to music he didn’t know about from when he grew up, going to record stores, and other physical stuff that gave him strong emotions that he couldn’t describe. But he couldn’t do any of that anymore, now that he was dying. She felt the need to open up to him in return and tell him about her pregnancy. While Aksel assured her that she would be a good parent and that she would be a great mother, he said to her that he felt sorry for not making her realize how wonderful she was during their time together. He had never said such things before to her, and he thought it was important that she knew. It was incredibly emotional for Julie, knowing that the man she loved most in her life was dying. She couldn’t bear the thought of him dying and leaving him behind. She was Aksel’s last love and the most important relationship in his life. Following that emotional visit, she finally told Eivind about her pregnancy. The break-up was already anticipated, and she had no choice but to be honest with him. They respected each other’s decisions and continued with their lives. From that day on, Julie had never felt so alone, so hurt, and so abandoned in her life. She didn’t know what to do with herself. She was pregnant and unsure whether she wanted to keep the baby or not. All she knew was that she needed time to think about her life. She felt like she was on the edge of a cliff and that the only thing she could do was fall and give up, but she didn’t because she had too much to live for.
The last chapter is where the journey ends when Julie finally comes to terms with her life. She and Aksel got together one last time in his childhood home, the place that inspired him to become an artist. Aksel became even more emotional about the idea of leaving the world. He just wanted everything back to the way it used to be. He wanted to go back to a time when he was happy, a time when he was healthy, when he had dreams and aspirations, and when he had someone to share his life with, with Julie. The two of them living in his flat, spending time together, and him doing what he loved best. It was the last time they ever saw each other.
Afterward, Julie received a voicemail from Aksel’s brother informing her that Aksel’s condition had worsened and might not survive the night. She is completely devastated by the news. She wandered around the streets of Oslo alone, heartbroken and confused. She felt as if she was living in a dream, losing the sense of reality, but it was real all the same. While she watched the sunset in front of the sea, she tearfully smiled and gazed into the sky. She finally regained composure, and she will never be the same again. The moment she dreaded the most in her life had come, because she realized everything had changed. Her life would go on without Aksel and Eivind, the two most important relationships in her life. She had a lot of thinking to do, and she knew she needed to do it to move on with her life. The strength and courage to move forward and live her life on her terms came from those relationships.
There’s one last thing that would change her life: she had a miscarriage. She smiled with relief. On that day, she really became the worst person in the world in the sense that she had to go through the worst thing that can happen to a person, but she has became more human than ever, and that’s what matters most. She realized the value of life and the magnitude of being alive. With the newfound courage and strength, she would continue to live her life and make the most out of it. The epilogue shows Julie working as a unit still photographer on a film shoot where she encountered Eivind with his child, happily married to the actress of the film. Julie smiled and was content with what she had. She doesn’t need anything else. She has a career, which is all she needs to survive in this world. She is finally happy. She knows what she wants to do with her life to survive in this world.
Throughout her journey, Julie has learned a lot about herself and the world. She has dealt with the most brutal struggles a person can face in life and came out of it a better person. The value of life is what she has gained the most out of this journey. She realized that how she felt about herself was the most significant determinant of how she would live her life. Before she met Eivind and Aksel, she was so caught up in her problems that she couldn’t recognize the world around her. She had so much to live for, but she wasn’t living and existing. She was a shadow of her former self, and it wasn’t until she came across these two people that she was able to find herself again and live her life in a world that had no room for her. This was a story of a person’s journey to find themselves, a purpose in life, and a way to endure in this world.
Speaking of a world full of uncertainty and change, we have felt the same way as Julie. We have been in her shoes, and we had felt the same way as she did when she was with Eivind, Aksel, and the life she created for herself. We understand her journey, decisions, struggles, and mistakes. Her story is our story. It’s the story of the human experience. We’ve all been there, and some of us are still on that road. We understand that she is just like us and that we are all the same in our pursuit of happiness, but we are all different in our decisions to get there. We all go through life questioning ourselves, sometimes becoming more miserable along the way, but we still press on. We still strive for that moment of clarity and understanding. This motivates us to be better, do better, and be who we want to be. We have doubted ourselves at some point in our lives — sometimes even to our own detriment — but we persevere because we know a better version of ourselves waiting for us on the other side. We just have to keep going. We have to keep moving. The flaws that we see in ourselves are the same flaws that we hate in others, so in a sense, everyone is the worst person in the world. It’s a title that we all must accept, a title that can be worn with pride, and a title that can be a catalyst of our most tremendous change. This film is a story of our choices and our direction in life. It is a story of our hardships and our triumphs. It is a story of humanity. It teaches us that our circumstances and people don’t define us. It’s our actions and our choices that define us. We are defined by ourselves. In those things, we find the most significant struggles in life, but it is also the greatest adventure one will ever take.
One of the greatest strengths in this film is Renante Reinsve’s performance as Julie. It was a performance so powerful that it captured the essence of the human experience and molded it into something relatable and unforgettable. How she played her character was so nuanced and complex that it was simply breathtaking to watch. There have been times when I’ve been watching her on-screen, and I’ve found myself questioning my own decisions, my own life, and my own identity. That’s how great of an actor she is. Her performance is undoubtedly one of the most outstanding performances I’ve ever seen for a long time. Meanwhile, Anders Danielsen Lie, a Joachim Trier regular, gave his best performance in years. His performance was raw and powerful, and it was an excellent addition to this film. Through Renante’s and Anders’ performances, we can understand the struggles of being human, the uncertainty of life, and the triumphs of overcoming our flaws through determination. These performances capture the depths of human emotion and the depths of our struggles. Herbert Nordrum as Eivind is also gave a staggering performance in the film. He was able to capture the range of human emotion and the content of human struggles through his subtle performance. Combining these three performances makes this film the masterpiece that it is. They are able to give life to a story that would have otherwise been a forgettable experience. They are able to make us feel as if we are on a journey with them, a journey that will ultimately bring us to a greater understanding of our lives.
Joachim Trier is known for creating films that explore the human condition, and this film is no exception. His films are always a profound and introspective journey that is able to evoke powerful emotions from his viewers. It helps us to understand ourselves and our lives better. There’s this naturalistic quality to his films that is so compelling. It’s almost as if he’s capturing a moment in time and freezing it to show us what life is like. We have seen it all in The Worst Person in the World. It has explored the best of who we are and the worst of who we can be. It reflects ourselves at its finest and its most brutal. Like all of Trier’s films, the way it is written is exquisite. It is layered, poetic, raw, and makes us feel as if we are experiencing life along with the characters. We are able to think through his writing. We are able to feel what the characters are feeling. Their dialogue becomes our words, and their actions become our actions. It’s in these small ways that Trier is able to make a film so personal and so intimate. The film is a masterpiece in its own right. It is a story that embraces its themes, the direction it takes, and challenges the notion of what it means to be human and the standards we set for ourselves. Something about it makes it feel as if it was written just for us. This is the mark of a great film, one that is able to resonate with its viewers. It is a film that will undoubtedly be ranked among Trier’s most significant works. It is a film that will undoubtedly be remembered, not only for the performances but also for its ability to explore the human condition and challenge the viewer to think about their own life. To be able to get under your skin and stay there for days and weeks on end is the mark of a true masterpiece.
If you are a fan of Trier or someone looking for a great film, I can’t recommend The Worst Person in the World enough.