Written by Janna Holthuizen
Interesting ideas about modern-day identity in the Oscar-nominated The Worst Person In The World
Coming-of-age movies traditionally portray the search for identity as a discovery of who you are and what your place in the world is. The Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier explores this concept in his recent film The Worst Person In The World, which was nominated for two Oscars this year. Besides being a coming-of-age film, the movie can be described as a romantic comedy, although it is at times a bit more dark and dramatic than the typical rom-com.
In the movie, the coming-of-age idea of discovering your identity is applied in the context of the 21st-century welfare state of Norway, where young people have endless opportunities to live a successful life, both in terms of career and in terms of personal well-being and relationships. For example, attending university is free in Norway, and women like the film’s main character Julie (Renate Reinsve) are of course no longer expected to stay at home. People today can become whoever they want to be; anything is possible.
Despite this infinite amount of opportunities, Julie fails to really seize any of them. She switches between different degrees, starting out with medicine, then realizing that her true passion is psychology, but soon gave that up as well to go into photography. However, throughout the film, she never really settles into this either. Next to this career indecisiveness, Julie is not sure about her relationships. She is in a stable relationship with cartoonist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lee), but when she meets bartender Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), she doesn’t know what to do.
It is the huge variety of options that make it impossible for Julie to choose and settle, setting her on a never-ending journey of finding out who she is and what she wants. We are all expected to live our best lives and become the best version of ourselves, especially with all the opportunities we have today. But when there are a million different ways in which we could live our lives and a million different identities that we could take on, how are we supposed to know which one to go for?
It should be noted, of course, that this is a luxury dilemma. It’s limited to those living in developed countries, and even within these countries, there are many people who would be happy to have the luxury of being indecisive between countless options. The film captures this to some extent, making you sometimes feel annoyed with Julie’s indecisiveness. And Julie herself is aware of it as well: she feels the pressure to make good use of all the opportunities she has, but when she fails to do so, she feels like she is The Worst Person In The World. Especially when her inability to settle for anything and her endless shifting between different careers, relationships and identities, affects other people’s lives as well, for example when she breaks up with her boyfriend because she’s not sure whether she really loves him.
The Worst Person In The World is a nuanced film that takes the coming-of-age concept further and presents interesting ideas about the search for identity in the modern world. It’s also simply a lot of fun to watch, with amazing acting and writing, and it does not disappoint as a romantic comedy either. So if you can, go and see it!