Julie’s life is ordinary. That’s what makes her so heartbreaking as the protagonist of Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World”.
The film follows our hero (Renate Reinsve) through the passages of late youth, and sees her crashing through her most significant relationship and into the rest of her life. In the progressive, postmodern society of a major Scandinavian city, all true material needs have been eliminated. In a voiceover about Julie’s maternal lineage, we see that women in generations’ past were forced into motherhood and died at progressively younger ages. A main conflict in the film is Julie’s own decision about motherhood. The stakes for her are purely personal as the conflict is only in her own head.
Through the power of cinema, mundanity becomes beauty. There is something so profound in the verisimilitude of this dark comedy. Julie’s life is no more or less complex than our own, or any unknown passerby. This is what makes the film successful and a nominee for best original screenplay. It’s heartbreakingly real; we see ourselves reflected in both the characters and their struggles.
A striking element of the narrative is the seamless integration of technology. So often the use of phones and social media is sensationalized, or an entire motif in itself. Technology is but a small plot device in the film, as much as it is a simple fact of our lives now in the 21st century. Julie’s boyfriend still follows his ex-girlfriend on Instagram; this doesn’t bother her. This detail is somehow as painfully heartbreaking as writing a letter in a period drama.
The realism is broken up by surrealist animated acid trips and a pause in time as Julie runs through a frozen city. The base story is so vividly real, it allows for these fantastical moments to exist and further the narrative without losing you. The power of film is displayed at both ends: extreme realism and fantasy.
The film is about Julie’s romantic life, but it doesn’t feel like a romance. Ultimately, it is about her difficulty in connecting to both others and herself. This conflict spills over into her struggle to realize what she wants out of life. Unlike the women who came before her, motherhood is an active choice. It is one she doesn’t feel ready to make for deeply personal reasons, despite an older, loving partner. Trier showcases these small nuances of modern life so well that we feel for Julie as she experiences such a psychological predicament. The film takes sex seriously. Its not the butt of a joke or following gender roles.
Renate Reinsve delivers a phenomenal performance. The character is so deeply human that she slips into the role easily. She teaches us that the only constant in life is change. Adult life is fraught with decisions only we can make ourselves. No right, no wrong– only what we want. It was a performance that brought Dakota Johnson to tears, and likely many other young women who understand fears and pressures for maternity in early adulthood.
‘The Worst Person in the World’ is available on streaming and in select theaters.