While some films may be praised for depicting a harsh reality, Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s (“Thelma”) “The Worst Person in the World” succeeds in its lack of harshness. The film, which has been nominated for an Oscar for Best International Feature, uses a delicate touch to detail one woman’s navigation of her career, her relationships, the simultaneous societal pressure she feels to have her life figured out and the recognition that she is freer than the generations of women before her.
The film, which was filmed and set in present-day Oslo, is divided into 12 chapters, bookended by a prologue and an epilogue. By the end of the prologue, Julie (Renate Reinsve, “Oslo, August 31st”) has determined that she should pursue a career not in medicine, but in psychology, and then not psychology but photography. Her indecisiveness over her career is mirrored in her relationships — after quitting medical school, she breaks up with her boyfriend and an omniscient narrator (Ine Jansen, “Helt Perfekt”) proclaims that he was too impressed by the control she was taking over her life to protest. This precedes her relationship with Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, “Oslo, August 31st”), an older man, which frames most of the film as she continues to grapple with her indecision and identity.
Julie and Aksel’s relationship, as well as her other platonic and romantic relationships, contain a refreshing amount of care. They are never black and white. Arguments are not born from characters’ disagreeable actions but from moments when their love for each other clashes with their ulterior goals. At one such time, Julie tells Aksel with some distress and confusion, “I love you, but I also don’t.” The deep-rooted and unbreakable care between the characters brings their relationships to life, captivating the viewer.
Julie’s struggle with aging, specifically as a woman, is also beautifully depicted. Her desire to freeze time and realization that this could be the only way to be free is felt strongly, but it is also counteracted by the camera, which is constantly in motion. This is true of many scenes, too, be they of people dancing, running on a treadmill or something as simple as the giant flakes of snow that bluster in the background. Much as Julie longs for time to stop, the viewer is not allowed to buy into this desire, because movement is what gives life to the film.
The tension between living to the fullest and feeling time rushing past too quickly draws out themes of the fear of death and “worship” of the past, as Askel describes at one point. This leads to the question of a piece of art’s ability to preserve a place in time, a life or a moment. Julie’s photography takes on new meaning in this context — a tool to freeze moments in time. This ability to capture life in an art piece is much the achievement of the film itself.
Yet, despite its beauty and nuance, the film’s ending lacks satisfaction and is difficult to read. Perhaps the film as a whole is not meant to conclude with any certainty, itself a chapter that we believe will continue on after the screen goes black. But the lack of finality still leaves something to be desired. While inside the film, it is glorious. It is thought-provoking and true. It is funny and sad and sometimes dark without being hateful. It feels alive. It feels like its impact will be long-lasting. But like the moments slipping through the fingers of the characters themselves, the film slips away shortly after watching, lacking clarity or a message with which to stake a lasting hold in the mind of the viewer.
Daily Arts Writer Erin Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.