Joachim Trier’s finale to his thematically connected “Oslo Trilogy” is one that gave me a massive amount of anxiety. It’s seriously wild.
And why shouldn’t it? When the opening shot is Renate Reinsve, wearing the ever-loving hell out of a black cocktail dress as the stunning backdrop of Oslo blurs away in a rack focus, leaving only her remaining, how can I not? Millennial ennui and angsty narcissism are something I think needed to be discussed, much as I didn’t want to. This film may be specifically directed at that generation, but the feeling is equally applicable to Generation X and the Baby Boomers as they reach their autumn and winter years questioning what they did with their lives and the relationships they did those things with. Maybe the Zoomers have a chance of escaping this hell, but who knows? Joachim Trier doesn’t, but he perhaps understands that struggle and lack of commitment better than almost any other.
The fourth circle of that metaphorical hell is being born into a world with too many options with no real way to make what would seem the “correct” decision (as anyone that has spent time scrolling through Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Starz, etc only to return to YouTube with no firm decision has felt). Julie (Renate Reinsve) is living that life. She begins as a medical student, a promising young woman that is making smart career choices without any passion. After deciding that her passion is truly the human mind and switching to psychology, she has an affair with her professor and winds up a photography student because it dawns on her that this is what her true passion must be. While out with her boyfriend, the aforementioned professor, she has a chance encounter with acclaimed (and older) comic book writer Aksel Willman (Anders Danielsen) and our stage is set. Told in chaptered sections, novelesque and structured in a way that feels uncertain until you grasp the entirety, the story will play out to feel confident when you reach its unsteadying and sweet conclusion.
I felt every bit of the confusion and carelessness of Julie’s journey. There’s something about being in your late twenties, indecision closing in like spiked walls in a Scooby-Doo castle trap, and the pressure quietly building as you race from thing to thing trying to figure out what you want. Terse relationships, no matter how intimate they may be, still offer some levels of anxiety when presented with anything deeper. Is it kind of arbitrary when Julie shows an incredibly intimate essay she’s written to her acclaimed author of a boyfriend? Maybe. Did she want more validation than a mild nod of amused acknowledgment and a light suggestion that she publish it? Absolutely, and it’s part of the complication of comfortable relationships that begin quickly and decay almost as fast. Intimacy comes in many ways, and in an age where we’re all under a public spotlight, it makes truly sharing with someone very hard (it’s at this point I’ll shout out my friends and fiancee, who make it easy).
Whether you fully grasp it or not we all have moments of pure selfishness. For Julie it could be breaking off one tryst rather quickly so that she can rush into another one, the conversation of “how far can we go without cheating on our significant others” already having been had in a side bedroom at a cocktail party. It might be imagining that the streets of a major city have shut down and only you can move, rushing towards something you decided on a lark was the most important thing in the world. Do these things make you the titular “worst person in the world” from Trier’s winking title? No, but the fallout from those decisions is sure as hell going to make you feel that way. The basic thesis of Trier’s film is this – no one knows what they’re doing.
There’s nothing easy about The Worst Person in the World. It’s a complicated, beautiful primal scream from a director that is grappling with the world his generation landed with and the indecision that plagues much of its population. Americans will find this film a struggle and a blessing, as your patriotic self-involvement leads us to often forget that the Western world is wider than the land between East and West coasts. It’s a universal ennui that we’ve been born into, one that collects as much existentialism from the options around it as it does exude it into everyday life. Nothing is more devastating than seeing someone you used to know has figured out their shit while you’re still working on yours, and that’s the point. Trier’s film quietly suggests that even though you’re going to feel jealousy and anxiety over it, the important thing is to get where you’re going at your own pace. The film gets to its conclusion and is still plagued with the aftershocks of all of Julie’s previous indecision. That’s okay because she’s about to enter new stages of life with options of their own.
The Worst Person in the World is currently playing in select theatres across the country, expanding further every week.