The Worst Person in the World – Being young, indecisive, and on the search for meaning

Picture of By Mila Macrander

By Mila Macrander

The movie The Worst Person in the World portrays what it means to be a young adult: figuring out who you are while the universe interferes with your plans. By diving into the euphoria and struggles of the protagonist while she is in the middle of defining herself and her life, the audience gets some food for thought about how we should live life.

If life is a book, young adulthood is the chapter of figuring out, trying out, and finding out – What are your ambitions? Who do you want to be? Whom do you love? Where do you want to live? As young adults, decisions about the future pile up in front of us. This pile of questions that seek to be answered may momentarily block our way to happiness as growing up can be a tedious process of trial and error. 

Relatability on the screen

The messiness this phase can imply is the main focus in Joachim Trier’s highly praised movie The Worst Person in the World. The romantic dramedy follows Julie, a woman in her thirties living in Oslo, while she navigates the uncertainties and obstacles of entering adulthood. 

Her journey encompasses different struggles, from the relationship with her family over career aspirations to dating and the societal expectations of motherhood. Changing from studying medicine to studying psychology, from being a photographer to working in a book store, from dating a slightly older comic artist to being in a relationship with a soft-hearted barista — Julie lives through different phases and, sometimes seemingly impulsively, changes her life plans as quickly as her hairstyle, all based on her feelings and current state of mind.

The movie is a raw and honest testament to young adulthood in which Julie’s struggle is like a mirror that is being held up to us, showing that our doubts, uncertainties, and questions are shared by most people. In Julie, the audience can find a person of identification as her imperfect personality traits make her an authentic and genuine character.

The luxury of choosing

At times, making decisions about the future may seem like being in an endless corridor with infinite doors on each side. Opening one door means that others will stay locked forever which makes the pressure of choosing weigh even more. 

Equally, it is a luxury that most of us get to choose more or less freely about our life, being offered different opportunities throughout life to actively shape our paths. Still, this sea of possibilities we find ourselves in can easily seem threatening if we get scared of drowning.

As Trier remarks himself, his movie touches upon “the Western middle-class experience of feeling that identity and expectations is this big pressure on us”. Having the freedom to shape the path we take ourselves, brings with it the inevitable pressure of actually having to use this freedom to decide on the direction, the winding, and the narrowness of our path. 

However, being free to choose does not mean being free from expectations and thus for some, this liberty is crushed by the weight of societal expectations. The study you choose should lead you to a secure job, your relationship should be long-lasting and committed and women in their late twenties should be thinking about having children. In The Worst Person in the World Julie does not bend to these rules and instead focuses on following her inner compass.  

Being the worst person in the world

Some decisions Julie feels necessary to take, such as ending her current serious relationship, inevitably hurt other people, making Julie feel like The Worst Person in the World. With its title, the movie raises the question of whether putting oneself and one’s needs before those of others, for the sake of being content with our life, makes a bad person.

The protagonist’s indecisiveness may be a burden to the people in her life but she can only get closer to finding herself by accepting that she cannot disregard her own needs for the sake of looking out for people’s feelings . Thus, the movie’s title shows that this chapter of life asks for the right amount of selfishness without which we might not find the real answer to life’s questions. By no means should one be ignorant of other people and their needs but sometimes decisions that end up being the best for oneself hurt someone close to us.

Ultimately, everyone has to go through this phase, and knowing that others do not have it all figured out can already offer some comfort when being in a troubling phase of deciding which door to open. Although one can seek guidance and advice from others, so as to not carry the entire burden alone, trying to figure out life is, in the end, a challenge everyone has to tackle by themselves as it is their own, personal happiness that should be the ultimate aim of this struggle. 

Essentially, the future can only be planned and figured out up to a certain extent and all those things out of our control add the uncertainty that makes some decisions a nerve-wracking burden. The unexpected losses and problems Julie encounter change her outlook on life in a way she could not have expected. It goes to show we can never fully grasp what a decision implies in its entirety and thus cannot foresee how the path we chose continues behind the hill we face.

Edited by: Katrien Nivera
Featured Image: Guillaume Bleyer/Unsplash

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