…is that Julie is The Worst Person in the World.
In this relationship comedy-drama for a new age, there’s one glaring truth: there’s actually a little bit of Julie in all of us. The ‘temp’ gig you take whilst waiting for the ‘right’ thing to come along – which over time becomes a permanent job. The ‘I’m already in a nice dress so I might as well stay out a little longer’ mindset. Confidently swaying your way through life, without having anything concrete planned out. Cringing with embarrassment as you’re suddenly at a loss for words when you come face to face with a crush. Falling in love with two people simultaneously, one who is sensible and one who is fun; but really wanting neither. Spontaneously partaking in a drug-induced shit-show. Acting out when someone doesn’t react to something in the exact way you wanted them to. Whatever your vice or ‘toxic trait’, you’ll probably see it, and yourself, in Julie.
Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World (2021), the final instalment of his unofficial Oslo trilogy, suddenly became a worldwide phenomenon – and it’s hardly difficult to see why. Starring the wholly dazzling and poignant Renate Reinsve as our protagonist Julie, it’s the kind of instantly gripping story that made me run to my laptop to get my thoughts and feelings out immediately; in the same way Julie felt compelled to pen an essay on ‘Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo’ as soon as inspiration struck. Admittedly, it took five viewings of the film before I felt my understanding was complete; before I felt that I had finally peeled back all of its layers and applied them to my own life sufficiently.
On the brink of turning 30 as major decisions about what she wants to ‘do’ with her life start creeping up on her suddenly, the effortlessly cool Julie strides her way through swathes of adoring men, a constantly growing pile of passions and hobbies, and a false sense of stability in her family life. She’s a med student, then a psychologist, then a photographer. She settles down with Aksel, a somewhat modern legend of the underground comic scene – surrounded by his own fanclub of incels. Although Julie relishes her mature connection and conversations with Aksel, it’s impossible to keep up with their difference in life experience and polar opposite views on parenthood, and the persistent questions from Aksel’s friends about her long-term career goals. Somehow, it’s up to Aksel to decide when the prime opportunity for Julie to enter motherhood would be – and he fails to understand why she wants ‘something else to happen’ first. Why, in Aksel’s eyes, is it so unbelievably unacceptable for Julie to want to live before devoting her life to a newborn? Is a woman’s livelihood and freedom capped at the moment she turns 30? As the couple’s story continues to unfold, Julie tries to maintain interest in Aksel and his ‘grown up’ friends, as they converse about Freud, capitalism, and of course, Aksel’s talent. But she wants something more – something exciting.
After hours spent at a party to celebrate Aksel’s next venture, Julie admits defeat and heads out into the city where the night is still young, a pale pink sky shrouding the skyline. It’s a scene reminiscent of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (2016) – mirroring the same emotions as Mia Dolan leaving an obnoxious LA party at dusk, strolling in solitude as her high heels clack through the metropolis. There’s something so moving and heart-wrenching about the image of someone almost rediscovering an all-too familiar yet suddenly distant surrounding, feeling like a tourist in their own home – and not being able to articulate exactly what’s wrong, or what happened to bring on this melancholy feeling. Against the backdrop of a quiet and serene Oslo, Trier captured this disillusionment flawlessly.
Julie continues to wander through the city, studying those around her inquisitively. Then comes the film’s true pièce de résistance, in my opinion: when Julie crashes a wedding and first meets Eivind – the ‘other man’. Julie, doe-eyed and grinning subtly under a wine-flushed glow, eagerly welcomes Eivind’s budding infatuation – perhaps enjoying the opportunity to feel like the ‘intellectual one’ for once. The pair begin to test the boundaries of infidelity, trialling a plethora of tender acts of intimacy like sharing secrets big and small, slowly standing closer in proximity, and even soaking up each other’s pheromones. The whole sequence begs the question: where do you draw the line? What counts as promiscuity and what is merely an innocent, innate human curiosity to get to know someone a little better?
Julie’s eventual relationship with Eivind is completely different to her relationship with Aksel – this one more freeing, though not as intellectually stimulating. Time stops (literally) when Julie’s with Eivind, and there’s a new spring in her step. Between early morning coffee runs and late night conversations, everything is seemingly perfect between Eivind and Julie, until Julie learns of Aksel’s sudden illness. It’s back to square one – Julie begins to wonder what she’s missed in the absence of Aksel in her life. On a visit to the hospital, we see that Aksel learned a few things from his relationship with Julie – avoiding taking too many painkillers, which were allegedly what prevented Julie’s increasingly absent father from attending his daughter’s birthday celebration. Under Aksel’s ever-present self-righteousness, there’s eternal love and respect for Julie; for introducing a certain brightness into his life. The bond between the pair echo yet another universally recognised, bittersweet emotion – knowing that even though someone isn’t actively in your life anymore, you’ll always carry a piece of them with you. In what could be the last deep conversation between the two, they realise that what they had could never be replicated with another.
In the film’s final scenes, Julie’s life is overtaken by the what-ifs, the fixation on how things could have been, and a growing discomfort with how things are going to be – along with the realisation that she needs to live her life on her own terms. In the end, we’re reminded of what ultimately matters most – we see Julie finally find her feet, her grounding, her calling. And of course, the only person she needed all along to reach this stage, was herself. As she returns home alone to her lovingly decorated apartment and is finally content in her own company, there’s a bright air of hope and redemption that will linger with you for weeks, and months, to come.
‘The Biggest Lie in the World’ is an article written by Ruwaida Khandker. You can follow Ruwaida on Instagram.