10 December 2022

Twist on classic coming of age saga

By Tim Kroenert

27 November 2021

In an interview with Variety, Joachin Trier describes his latest film as “a coming of age tale for grown-ups who wish they had already done so”. 

“While the classic coming of age novel would follow someone in their late teens,” he says, “This is about someone who turns 30, making life choices as she struggles with relationships and with herself.” 

This might seem to imply the central character in The Worst Person in the World is childish, but she is far from it.

The film introduces us to Julie (Renate Reinsve), a young woman in Oslo in her late 20s who is struggling to find her place, in society, in her work, her family and relationships. In a prologue we see the exceptional student Julie ducking from one academic focus to another — first medicine, then psychology, then photography — as her interests and passions evolve. With each switch, she changes romantic partners.

We are meant to see her as flaky. But we also see a woman who knows that her choices are her own, and intends to exercise control of her destiny. As the film progresses, we see her grapple with social pressure towards motherhood. We see her own her creative and sexual appetites. She eschews toxic relationships, and pursues those that nourish her. Not all her decisions prove to be sound, but she makes them with full respect to her own autonomy.

Trier’s film is abstracted in a way that defies sentimentality. Julie’s story is divided into 12 chapters, a prologue and an epilogue. Each segment has a distinct focus, while propelling and thematically informing the others. In one ostensibly emotional sequence, a coolheaded voiceover drowns out the charged dialogue. Another sequence is hopelessly, magically romantic, as Julie has a rendezvous with a would-be lover in a world that has frozen still for her benefit.

When the film is overtly emotional, the emotion is deeply complicated. Julie crashes a wedding, where she immediately bonds with a male guest, Eivind (Hans Olav Brenner). Both are partnered, and they spend the night testing the boundaries of what constitutes “cheating”. Thus they achieve incredible levels of intimacy without crossing into outright sexuality. The sequence feels authentically human, with all the fallibility this term implies.

The title is, in part, ironic. In that same Variety profile Joachim jokes the film is his Eat Pray Love — an existential tale about personal growth and self-acceptance. For all the hardships Julie encounters and the sometimes poor choices she makes, she emerges from these experiences with a better defined sense of self, and self-worth. The film’s ending is not, of course, “the end”. Julie’s story is a reminder that “growing up” is a lifelong process.

★★★★

In cinemas 26 December

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