Renate Reinsve as Julie. Image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

The Worst Person in the World: A Sundance Film Review

The Worst Person in the World is a movie that is anti-motherhood, Julie isn’t villainized for her decision to not have children. Instead the film humanizes her.

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Norwegian writer-director Joachin Trier’s third feature, The Worst Person in the World, screened virtually at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Essentially, it is about a woman that tries to balance her career and love life in her 30s. The movie is divided into 14 chapters. We follow an indecisive Julie (played by the extraordinary Renate Reinsve), as she pivots her career path from medicine to psychology to photography. She finally lands a job at a bookstore. 

She begins a relationship with Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), but after a while, they start to have issues. Aksel wants to start a family with Julie at the crossroads of “maybe” and “someday.” Later, Julie crashes a party and meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), and they spend the night together playing a game of how they can be intimate with each other without cheating on their partners. After this encounter, Julie and Eivind aren’t able to keep thinking about each other, and they part without revealing each other’s names. 

The Worst Person in the World is neither about a woman who treats people badly nor, points fingers at her. At the essence, it is a coming-of-age story about an adult woman who is navigating her life as she tries to figure out what she wants for her future. It explores the themes of anti-motherhood and the expectations that society deems on women at her age. 

. Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie as Julie and Aksel in The Worst Person in the World.  Image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.
Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie as Julie and Aksel. Image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

Her relationship with Aksel has contrasting desires He has figured his life out and wants to start a family with Julie, on the other hand, Julie is unsure whether she wants to have kids of her own. Part of the reason for her uncertainty is her parent’s marriage that ended a long time ago. She has a difficult relationship with her family who barely communicate with her. She keeps in touch with her mother on special occasions. When Julie meets Aksel’s friends and sees how unhappy they are in marriages and with children, she becomes even more unsure.

The Worst Person in the World is essentially a movie that is anti-motherhood, but Trier doesn’t villainize the protagonist over her decision to not have children. It makes her human. She is free to try out different passions and loves that she can start something new. However, Julie is flawed and learns that she made a mistake by breaking up with Aksel. Before she leaves him, follows a sequence where time stands still and Julie runs across town, feeling infatuated and excited, and into the arms of her new lover. She runs past people, walks in the park with Eivind, and forgets about her desires and future. But as their relationship progresses, she realises that their aspirations are different and begins to stray away from him. In another sequence where Eivind and Julie get high on mushrooms with their friends, she realises that her world is falling apart. 

Julie’s decisions on motherhood change. When she finds out she is pregnant, she fears Eivind might not want the same thing as her. Her fears are valid. Yet, she doesn’t know what to do. Her indecisiveness costs her to lose people that holds dear to her. She lost Askel, and now Eivind.

The idea of life is figuring things out day by day. Julie is flawed, and still, she finds a way to love and be passionate about her career, hairstyle, and even the two men who are romantically involved with her. Life is meant to be full of regrets. Decisions like motherhood are not meant to fall onto everyone, and that is someone Julie doesn’t end up becoming more. Her mindset changes and she evolves as her life goes through the motions. Julie finds a career that she thrives in. The Worst Person in the World is unstable, imperfect, and selfish, and it may describe Julie.

This wraps up our Sundance coverage for the year. If you’re interested in reading more, please follow the link here!

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Nuha Hassan is a film and TV writer and reviewer, based in the Maldives. She is a Staff Writer at Film Cred, Off Colour, and Flip Screen. Apart from writing about film, she is a Video Editor at Dead Central. She studied Master of Media at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Her love for film started with David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. Her favourite comfort film is When Harry Met Sally.

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