“The Worst Person in the World” boasts three superb performances.
Prologue. Chapter 1: The Others Chapter 2: Cheating Chapter 3: Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo Chapter 4: Our Own Family Chapter 5: Bad timing Chapter 6: Finnmark Highlands Chapter 7: A New Chapter Chapter 8: Julie’s Narcissistic Circus Chapter 9: Bobcat Wrecks Xmas Chapter 10: First Person Singular Chapter 11: Positive Chapter 12: Everything Comes to an End. Epilogue.
Third film in director Joachim Trier’s “Oslo Trilogy” following “Reprise” (2006) and “Oslo, 31 August” (2011). Actor Anders Danielsen Lee has appeared in all three films.
Julie: Renate Reinsve
Aksel: Anders Danielsen Lee
Eivind: Herbert Nordrum
Let’s start with Kierkegaard.
Wasn’t it Kierkegaard who once said that “We can only understand life backwards, but we’re forced to live it forwards”? In his fifth film, “The Worst Person in the World”, Oslo-based director Joachim Trier takes this maxim and runs with it in ingenious ways as we are introduced to Julie (Renata Reinsve) who is pushing thirty and stuck in a rut both emotionally and professionally.
12 Chapters, a Prologue, and an Epilogue.
The film’s separate chapters allow Trier, who wrote the script with his longtime collaborator Eskil Vogt, to move fluidly in time pausing to observe Julie and the two men in her life: Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lee), a successful cartoonist, about 15 years her senior, and Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) a barista around her own age.
Brilliantly Constructed Prologue.
In the brilliantly constructed prologue, we are taken on a whirlwind tour:
1) from Julie as a medical student with boyfriend.
2) to Julie now single, studying psychology and having an affair with her professor.
3) to Julie now interested in photography and working in a bookstore.
4) to Julie meeting and moving in with Aksel.
The Dreaded Unreliable Narrator.
The rapidly unfolding story is also narrated in the third person by an older woman (actress Ine Jansen) who allows us a little insight into Julie’s mind even if you also suspect that, in her brief and fleeting voice-overs, she could be the dreaded unreliable narrator!
Chapter 1: The Others.
Although Julie and Aksel initially appear happy, their age difference constantly intrudes. Aksel wants children while Julie is hesitant at this point in her life. The “to have or have not” question is used to comedic effect in Chapter One (The Others) when Julie and Aksel spend the weekend at the home of Aksel’s brother. Children abound. One of them, a screaming little brat, attaches herself to Julie’s leg and will not let go! You can see the gears turning in Julie’s head.
Chapter 2: Cheating.
For me, the movie’s two most beautiful and cinematic chapters concerned Julie and Eivind. In Chapter 2 (Cheating), Julie leaves a party in honor of Aksel and walks through the streets of Oslo at dusk. As she walks the camera follows her and Trier, cutting from a Julie’s POV shot to a medium-close-up of her face, subtly conveys how deeply unhappy she is (the result is something akin to Diane Lane in “Unfaithful”). With nothing to do, she crashes a stranger’s wedding where she almost immediately hits it off with a pleasant young man names Eivind with a nice smile. Because both are in a relationship, they have no physical contact. However, their scenes together are very sexy.
Chapter 5: Bad Timing.
Then in Chapter 5 (Bad Timing), time (and people and cars and the entire world) stands still as Julie leaves Aksel, frozen in the kitchen as he pours her a cup of coffee and runs through the streets of daytime Oslo. She stops by the coffee shop for the also unfrozen Eivind, and the two climb to the hills above Oslo where they spend the night and watch the sunrise.
Julie belittles Eivind.
As the movie evolves through its final chapters it becomes more somber and Julie becomes increasingly insular and cruel. There is one scene in Chapter 10 (First person Singular) where Julie belittles Eivind, and it is very harsh. Not least because Eivind is a character who is genuinely nice. In fact, both men are nicer people than Julie who, in many ways, does not deserve them.
Life Goes On.
Trier ends on a sad note, but life goes on, at least for two out of the three main characters. In addition to the extraordinary work of Trier and Reinsve the supporting work by Danielsen Lie and Nordrum is impeccable and Oslo – efficient, clean, and people-friendly Oslo and the movie’s fourth major character – is captured beautifully by cinematographer Jakob Ihre. Essential viewing.
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