What are our obligations to one another? Maybe we don’t owe anyone anything except ourselves. The latter may appear to be a harsh conclusion, but it’s comprehensible coming from “The Worst Person in the World.”
The title of Joachim Trier’s dark romantic comedy is a little exaggerated – Julie (Renate Reinsve) is regularly selfish and thoughtless, but by no means the worst — but it is no less powerful in its emotions, which swirl between disillusioned, unsatisfied, sorrowful, and joyful.
“The Worst Person in the World” is both an achingly familiar and frequently impersonal love story, and a rare insight at what it’s like to go through life as a very, really outrageously good-looking person. “The Worst Person in the World,” told in 14 sections of varying length and tone, is partially intended to alienate; It’s a meticulous description of a lady whose enchanted existence is only thwarted by her own aimlessness. However, underneath its charming antics and darkly comedic tone lurks profound loneliness.
Life in Medias (Un)Res(t)
Trier’s vague “Oslo Trilogy” concludes with “The Worst Person in the World,” the anti-romantic comedy’s pinnacle. There is no “endgame” in this life written in chapters; only sour regrets and bittersweet recollections. Despite its melancholy, the picture is devoid of cynicism, and it has a very affectionate perspective of all the muck that may make up a person’s existence.
And Julie’s life is a jumble of chaos. Julie, who was formerly a medical student in Oslo, had an epiphany and decides to major in psychology. She then had a second epiphany and chooses to pursue a career as a photographer. Then she meets Aksel Willman (a quietly excellent Anders Danielsen Lie), a prominent comics artist 15 years her senior, while out meeting other artists. They fall headlong in love and move in together after some uncertainty about starting a relationship together.
An invisible lady, whose omniscient presence and repetitive reading evokes the self-indulgent stylings of a French New Wave film, narrates the full series of events (which is merely the prologue’s entirety). However, if the film continued in this vein, it would be unwatchable, so “The Worst Person in the World” wisely switches things up with each chapter, at times evoking a dreamy neorealist romance, at others tumbling down a surreal comedy rabbit hole, at others quipping like a screwball rom-com, and at others keeping its distance like many a Norwegian drama. Its pliability transforms a mundane plot into something amazing, albeit it wouldn’t work as effectively if Renate Reinsve, the film’s dazzling breakout star, weren’t present.
The Magic Hour
Reinsve is magnificent, there’s no doubt about it. She’s indisputably attractive, but she also has that mischievous gleam in her eye, as if she knows everything and nothing at the same time. Julie’s fantasies shift from minute to minute, and just when she looks to be at ease — living with Aksel and settling into their routines — she gets restless. What do you think of her photography? What was her major in psychology? Oh, she’s dabbled with writing. But has she considered starting a family? Julie approaches a breaking point as a result of the bombardment of inquiries and the unseen strain.
Julie and Elvind dance around each other the whole night, both physically and symbolically — both in committed relationships and neither wanting to betray — in one of the film’s most ecstatic passages. But they want to, and the desire vibrates off their bodies as they exchange crooked smiles and vow to do anything but “cross the line.” They lick one other’s armpits, urinate in front of each other, and whisper dark secrets in each other’s ears as they hover their mouths inches apart. They never kiss, though. Julie departs the following morning, the globe aglow in hazy sunlight — magic hour, feeling ever so fantastic — briefly content yet unsatisfied.
It’s no surprise that the promotion for “The Worst Person in the World” features this chapter, which so wonderfully nails that ineffable will-they-won’t-they tension in a winkingly self-aware way. It symbolizes the film’s deceptively warm, perpetually tormented essence, depriving you of the catharsis of a joyful conclusion. Julie is as unpredictable when it comes to her own hobbies and employment as she is when it comes to love.
A Memory for You
Julie’s life is a collection of shards; we witness her at some of her happiest and saddest moments, but they’re only pictures of a woman in transition. Why should we care if Julie has no idea who she is? That’s part of “The Worst Person in the World’s” allure, but it’s also its worst flaw: it keeps us at arm’s length while dazzles us with strange moments (the Lynchian shrooms sequence, as well as the gushingly passionate time-freeze date, deserve special mention). But, for all of Trier’s aesthetic flourishes, “The Worst Person in the World” never gets buried by its more outlandish choices; instead, they serve to accentuate our protagonist’s tangled, unpredictable state of mind.
It’s possible that this paradox is what kept me from falling head over heals in love with Julie like the rest of the characters who meet her. But it was Aksel, Julie’s much-older lover, whose life is turned upside down when she declares that she has found someone else, who suddenly sent me crashing and whose terrible discoveries compounded the aimless sadness of “The Worst Person in the World.”
Danielsen, Anders Lie provides a powerful portrayal as a person whose life plans are abruptly upended, someone who was once so vital to Julie but is now someone less so. He tells Julie, “I don’t want to be a memory for you,” after giving some devastating news to her.
But, when we go on to the next chapter of Julie’s life, he is nothing more than a memory, one that lingers and never ceases to sting. To borrow a line from another out-of-the-box love story, “Because each individual possesses… unique characteristics. You’ll never be able to completely replace a person. What’s gone is gone forever.”
The texture of Julie, our “The Worst Person in the World” and just another average woman trying to make sense of who she is, is made up of losses, missteps, exhilarating highs, and subdued lows. We never get a complete picture, but the one we do receive is lovely, albeit shattered.
Film Recommendation: 8.5/10