There is an uneasy feeling within when, by society’s punishment standards, one’s youth inevitably begins to fade. As you pull off a grueling adult skit, with your twenties now over and your thirties steadily declining, the urgency to be, to achieve, to be in love forever, all to prove that you have something to show for your down-to-earth time, settle in.
“I feel like a spectator in my own life,” says Julie (Renate Reinsve), a young woman who is still piecing together her spectrum of emotional wants and needs. He explains this to Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), his girlfriend who is more than a decade older than him. In Julie, millennial anxiety manifests in a flurry of frustration and feeling trapped as she grapples with self-discovery.
Segmented into a dozen chapters (plus a prologue and epilogue), this literary-structured film introduces Julie to a montage of her college life caught up in a maelstrom of doubt and exploration, between changing career paths and romantic relationships. But by the end of the first half, Julie will be 30 years old and faced with the looming question of her potential for motherhood.
Trier and longtime co-writer Eskil Vogt continue to strengthen our understanding of Julie and her romantic partner through immersive visual aberrations guided by a female narrator’s voice. Immersed in Harry Nilsson’s deceptively upbeat songs, their passionate narrative language finds the ideal vehicle in the way cinematographer Kasper Tuxen fills the characters’ true faces with the softest and most elegant lighting of the Nordic skies.
Working in a bookstore, having dabbled in medicine and photography, Julie is now in the shadow of Aksel, a respected cartoonist with politically wrong material. He was a safe choice, a sensible partner, but he wasn’t ready for the commitment he wanted. A montage adds to the feeling that she is behind on life’s schedule, showing how the women in her lineage have been raising children for her age from generation to generation.
Part of Julie’s growth in the graceful and whimsical “Worst Person in the World,” as she navigates estrangement from her father, stems from moments about her fortitude to walk away from situations or people to pursue her own happiness. There is agency in his recklessness that places him in a limbo between the hedonism of youth and expected maturity.
Yet, in overcoming the selfishness it takes to allow himself to move based on his intuition, he shows deep compassion for the humans on the other side of every divide. In the scenes where Julie and Aksel express grief for things that may never happen between them, Trier captures an almost shocking display of honesty, removing all defensive shields. These are two people who love each other, who can accept the impossibility of their union at this moment.
Reinsve’s appearance is a spell of the highest caliber, pure acting magic action that fluctuates throughout Julie’s evolving arc. By allowing us to observe characters over time and in different aspects, Trier gives Reinsve a platform not only to demonstrate reach but also to build character in small, but deeply telling emotional modulations: his faint smile while trying not to cry or express himself. which cannot be restrained. his gleeful grin, his loose dance, or the way he stands tall with crushing determination.
Through him, Julie matured at her own pace. He often runs into something impermanent but exciting, only to find that perhaps he has been seeking answers in someone else’s arms when those answers have always been his to formulate. To think Reinsve didn’t come out in the 10 years between his first on-screen appearances in Trier’s “Oslo, 31 August” is outrageous. But in a sense, the period of trying to break through and not reaching it until his early thirties may have created a kinship with his fictional personality.
Danielsen Lie conveys a sweetness similar to Aksel, even as a man who doesn’t want to let go of the worn out. There’s also a shameful fear in him of losing the lead, knowing that all the reasonable worries we’ve ever ridiculed have begun.keep us awake at night. Aksel’s speech about how at some point what remains is to look back at who we are, in the artifacts of youth, is a striking blow.
In the pensive duel of sincerity that Trier displays between the flawless Danielsen Lie and the stunning Reinsve, the actor repeatedly puts on a smile that looks as if his cheekbones are a dam struggling to hold back a flood of tears. There was a desperate plea in his eyes that sounded almost childish, acknowledging that his artistic triumph did not dilute the worry of finding meaning in the number of his mortal days.
Each chapter in “The Worst Person in the World” feels like a complete and unique thought that encapsulates the real in unrealistic visual terms—like the tracks on an eclectic album, which, despite their differing tones, form a cohesive whole. With Tuxen and editor Olivier Bugge Coutté gracing the screenplay, Trier envisions particularly stimulating examples such as with the nimble camera movements accompanying Aksel as he plays air drums in a music-driven trance, or in the hilarious quirks of drug-induced travel featuring animated splash.
A prime example of Trier’s cinematic spirit is the sequence in which Julie meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a new lover. The two promise not to cheat on their partners with each other, but the pair engage in a dance of flirtatious intimacy that goes beyond the mundane. Then, he dreams of making time stop to cross Oslo for a kiss and a magical afternoon, in one of the film’s most stunning romantic displays full of mischievous thrills.