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the worst person in the world review
A young woman struggles to get her life on track as she turns 30.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joachim Trier

Starring: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielson Lie, Herbert Nordrum, Hans Olav Brenner, Helene Bjørneby 

The Worst Person in the World poster

It's a sad truth that in order to live your own life you need to indulge in a degree of narcissism. The path you follow to achieve your own contentment may result in disappointing others. For most of us, it begins with letting down our parents, for how many of us truly become the person our parents wished for? Then, throughout life, we find ourselves faced with remaining in loveless relationships or telling others that we may not share their affection. Some of us might even have to neglect our spouse and children in order to achieve our career goals.

People who choose not to indulge in such narcissism are often regarded as heroes in our culture. Until relatively recently, religions had programmed us into believing that we should stick with a relationship no matter how miserable it makes us. The aftertaste of such thinking still lingers on in those people who view you with suspicion if you're over 30 and haven't either gotten married or had children. It's bad enough if you're a bloke, but if you’re a childless woman with no significant other over a certain age you're viewed like some sort of witch, and it's assumed you must be self-centred at best, sociopathic at worst.

The Worst Person in the World review

For those of us who have no interest in raising children and find it difficult to maintain relationships, for those of us who are above a certain age yet still haven't quite figured out what our purpose really is, Joachim Trier's The Worst Person in the World is a movie that embraces us and tells us that while it's not going to be exactly alright, it at least understands us.

The film is centred around Julie (Renate Reinsve), the sort of young woman whose friends might describe as a "trainwreck" behind her back. Except Julie doesn't even have friends. After an early montage that details her indecisiveness in flitting between various college courses, Julie finds herself living with Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a fortysomething comic book artist. Julie is attracted to his outspokenness and intellectualism, but she's turned off by his desire to have children. This leads her into the arms of the likeable if superficial Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), but soon she finds she has little in common with him. Perhaps what Julie needs is an amalgam of Aksel and Eivind, a thinking man who will share her spontaneity.

The Worst Person in the World review

Much of Trier's film sees its characters negotiating the expectations put upon young liberals in the current era. While flirting with becoming a writer, Julie pens an essay entitled "Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo," which tackles the difficulty of claiming to be a feminist while enjoying giving pleasure to men. To follow her own path, feminism is something else Julie may have to disappoint. Eivind has a similar dilemma as an environmentalist. He leaves his girlfriend Sunniva (Maria Grazia Di Meo) for Julie because Sunniva's obsession with saving the planet becomes so suffocating that Julie's narcissism is freeing by comparison – he has nothing to live up to in Julie's presence, or so he initially believes. Aksel represents the contradictions of being an artist known for provocative work and now receiving more criticism from liberals than conservatives.

Yet while Trier indulges in such heady themes, he does so in a manner that's always amusing, and he pulls several tools from his cinematic bag of tricks that make The Worst Person in the World stand out from its visually uninspired mumblecore cousins. In one bravura sequence, Julie imagines freezing time like the woman from that Twilight Zone episode and runs through the streets of Oslo into Eivind's arms. With everyone suspended in time around them, the pair spend a full day together, with nobody else in their lives any the wiser. A comic highlight sees the film's narrator take us back through several generations of the women in Julie's family to illustrate how each generation has become less focused on simply living to breed children.

The Worst Person in the World review

Reinsve is a winning presence, attractive enough to be a movie star but relatable enough to have realistic insecurities. A creation of two male writers (Trier and his co-writer Eskil Vogt), Julie betrays the modern myth that you can only write characters whose shoes you've walked in. Women may relate slightly more to Julie, and perhaps will be more likely to seek out Trier's film, but this male viewer found himself represented by Julie more than many other characters in recent cinema, of either gender. Like Julie, I've chosen a life path that's led me to appear solipsistic in the eyes of outsiders, shunning forming a family in order to follow career goals, and it's refreshing to see myself embodied in a movie that doesn't make me feel bad for enjoying my own company. Like Julie, I've disappointed my parents, I've hurt people's feelings, and I don’t care about my planet as much as maybe I should. But I'm not the worst person in the world, am I? At least one filmmaker in Scandinavia believes I may not be.

The Worst Person in the World is on MUBI UK now.

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