Among the thousands of books that have been written trying to elucidate Hitler, there is a remarkable one by Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil,1 that by the end of its compelling c. 500 pages manages to persuade the reader that it is not really possible to understand Hitler. The film Verdens Verste Menneske (The Worst Person in the World, Joachim Trier, 2021) made me feel that way: After 12 chapters, a prologue, an epilogue, and an introductory metaphor encapsulating the essence of the movie, the viewer arrives at a similar conclusion regarding Julie (Renate Reinsve), the film’s protagonist who has become somewhat of an icon for existentially confused Millennials – there is no explaining her. Not that such was the film’s intention, surely an exercise in futility; instead, it offers valuable insights into the enigma that is Julie’s psyche and her generation’s approach to living in certain parts of the developed world, where one can afford to have Julie’s existential problems.

Aside from being an active film director, I’m the Head of the Film Program at Santa Monica College in California. My wife and I are members of Gen X and proud parents of a Gen Z daughter in college and two Millennial sons who have already finished their graduate studies. Most of my university students are also Millennials, so this is an age group with whom I interact very closely not only in the classroom but also on film sets, where people tend to show what they’re really made of. I’ve forged friendships with some of them after they complete our film program, in some cases even collaborating professionally. I’ve had many intelligent, sensitive, and talented students, particularly female, whom I recognise in Julie. This is partly the reason why The Worst Person in the World struck a chord with me. However, much of what I’ve read about it does not. The film has had global acclaim (as I write this article, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 96%, based on 236 critical reviews, with an audience score of 86%)2, so maybe it’s beside the point why viewers are attracted to it, but I can’t help but feel that a superficial approach does a disservice to a movie that merits deeper analysis. In that spirit, here are my two cents…


The opening shot of the film is a slow dolly-in that shows Julie in profile, standing on a terrace, smoking, looking rather uncertain about something. She turns towards camera, where the off-screen music is coming from, scrolls her smartphone for answers that are never there, and then looks away towards the harbour. Oslo is still except for a sailboat in the distance and a bird that crosses frame. 

The Worst Person in the World

Twenty minutes later it will be revealed that Julie and her partner, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), have attended a party offered in his honour as the artist behind the successful comic book, Gaupe (Bobcat). Julie feels alienated. She doesn’t have much, if anything, going on for herself and, self-centered as she is, the fact that people at large are more interested in Aksel than in her is starting to weigh on her sense of self. In addition, Aksel is 15 years older and has been making most of the decisions in their relationship, something that at one point suited her but she now finds reductive. This metaphorical opening stands for Julie’s turning point as she makes the decision to emancipate herself from living her life with Aksel. Some might see it as the beginning of her self-discovery, others as pure and blatant self-sabotage. The film sets out to explore this conundrum. But first, a bit of backstory.

In the prologue we learn, with the partial aid of an omniscient female voiceover, that at 29 Julie is going through the existential unease of those who live in affluent societies, have too much time on their hands, and try to compensate for their lack of inner compass with a deluge of social-media nothingness to fill in the void – the hole that has taken over the whole. 

The Worst Person in the World

She is not stupid, far from it. She is studying medicine and has excellent grades, but who cares, she feels empty. She has a sudden epiphany and realises that her passion is not the body but what goes on inside, so she excitedly shares with her supportive mom that she is switching careers to psychology. While she’s at it and to fully “take control of her life”, she also dumps her befuddled boyfriend. Trier and cinematographer Kasper Tuxen do an interesting gimmick by showing a triumphant Julie heading to her first psychology class in slow motion, to the sound of Cobra Man’s Bad Feeling, in what could well be a parody of Rocky (John G. Avildsen, 1976). Is this going to be a satire? No, just a fragmented film with sudden shifts of tone, the sort that Truffaut immortalised in the heyday of the French New Wave. To top it off, the narrator tells us that Julie’s classmates, “Norway’s future spiritual advisers, (…) are mostly girls with borderline eating disorders.” Soon enough Julie is having meaningless sex with her psychology teacher and, one day, as she is scrolling through photos of her and her mentor in bed, she has another impulsive epiphany: She is actually a visual person, not a neuron-driven one, and therefore she decides to alter career paths again towards photography. This time her mom is more sceptical when Julie announces her change of heart: “As long as you’re serious about it,” she warns her. 

Julie takes a temp job in a bookstore and through photography has a taste of a more bohemian, edgier side of Oslo, featuring more empty sex. Her new hook-up is an Aryan-looking bald model with gold-capped teeth. Thankfully Trier doesn’t suggest there’s anything morally wrong with Julie having multiple consensual forays – it is her body and she can do as she pleases. What is questionable, though, is the notion that she’s “in control” of anything; Julie is more like a train about to derail unless a force heretofore unknown to her materialises and reroutes it.

And it is at this moment of fragility masked as self-assuredness that Julie meets Aksel at one of the artsy parties. She approaches him (in a fate-induced steadicam shot ripe with energy) and, significantly enough, their first interaction revolves around a lie. 

The Worst Person in the World

Aksel asks if Julie knows his work and she pretends she does, with Mr. gold-capped teeth looking on, aware of what she’s up to because not long ago he was on the receiving end of Julie’s sideways glances and body language that will inevitably lead to Aksel’s bed.

Contrary to a Hollywood movie, Trier doesn’t show Aksel and Julie engaged in romantic lovemaking but in bed, post-coitum, unglamorously so. “I know what you mean, nothing’s ever good enough” are Aksel’s first words after they’ve had sex, in response to something charged with negativity that Julie said or didn’t say that we are not privy to. Maybe she didn’t have an orgasm? He ejaculated prematurely? In any case, sublime it was not, for either of them. There is a palpable heaviness in the air as Aksel delivers a soliloquy dissecting why they should not be together, in the process plotting the rest of the movie for us: their age difference (physically not at all noticeable, by the way), Julie’s need to find herself, the resistance to feeling tied to anyone in a way that might curtail her freedom (aka fear of commitment), and maybe even a tad of Scandinavian angst reminiscent of so much cinema from that part of the world, from Bergman to the Dogma directors. Echoes of Woody Allen playing himself in Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) also come to mind when he explains to Diane Keaton’s and Mariel Hemingway’s characters, respectively, why one day they’re going to leave him… which they both vehemently deny and then proceed to do. To Julie’s credit, she doesn’t deny it. She remains silent and walks out of Aksel’s apartment. As she’s descending the stairs, the female voiceover declares that right then and there was the precise moment Julie fell in love with Aksel. 

If a psychological explanation were needed, one could argue that she falls for him because he saw right through her and rejected her, an irresistible combination for an unbalanced mind. For Julie relationships are a duel, a self-serving proposition in which she must prevail at all costs. But alas, it takes two to tango. Julie turns around and there’s Aksel waiting for her with a smile on his face, as if he knew she was going to relapse. Was it all a seduction strategy on his part?

There is another way of looking at this, of course, and that is that Julie is highly intuitive and realises that for the time being she’s not likely to come across anyone else quite like Aksel, who readily has chosen her among all possible women. Which raises a good point: Based on what we’ve witnessed so far, why exactly is Aksel attracted to Julie? Is there anything else beside the physical component? Aksel wants to settle down, and Julie wants to try out stability almost like a game, so she moves into his place. If this prologue is about anything, it’s about setting up Julie as a young woman who doesn’t know what she wants and is willing to plunge into complex situations to discover what resonates with her. Julie is not into the equilibrium of give and take, only the latter. To be fair, why Aksel wants to be with someone like her probably says more about him than her. A brief montage at the end of the prologue gives us an inkling: Like many epic honeymoon periods of new couples, it’s fun and fresh, filled with spontaneity fueled by endless rivers of alcohol and bodily fluids that will sooner than later be laid to rest in search of deeper roots. Appropriately enough, the last shot of the prologue shows Aksel and Julie huddled asleep in bed, her back turned to him, in a dolly-out that ends on an iris fade-out, giving their nascent relationship a sense of timelessness and the promise of eternal return.

The Worst Person in the World

I. The Others

Aksel and Julie have been together for a while now. They visit his friends in the countryside and everything around her makes Julie feel out of place and inadequate. People ask her (not without a tinge of cruelty) what she does for a living, if there’s something she’d like to do as a career, if friends her age already have children, and so on. There is an overall sense that she’s not good enough for Aksel. To make things even more awkward, Aksel has been telling his fortysomething friends that Julie has started writing… “I wouldn’t exactly call it writing,” she clarifies. They take for granted that she spends most of her time on her smartphone, which is not a completely outrageous assumption, and even compare her way of life to their own kids’. All of this frustrates Julie because she knows she has a brain, but she’s not doing much to prove it. She also observes how parents struggle and often seem at a loss to raise their children. Nothing could be less appealing to her. In the midst of family chaos, Aksel brings up the possibility of having children together, which leads to a fight. “Everything’s on your terms,” Julie accuses him. She resents that their shared calendar is based on his creative flow as applied to his comic books. “I just want to do more first,” she asserts. “Okay, like what?” he genuinely wonders. Julie erupts: “I don’t know! Why do you ask?” At this point one might speculate if this is a film about a young woman in search of her own voice, as talented or flawed as it might turn out to be (impossible to know without the prerequisite of putting in the hard work), or if it is about someone so thoroughly unfulfilled and selfish that she even resents that her partner has a voice and takes the lead in the kind of relationship she thought she wanted in the first place. In any case, the doomsday clock is already ticking. 

While at the countryside, Julie seems to be in her element when, after a few drinks, she can talk about sex in a provocative way at the dinner table, preferably with men around it. It’s her way of not giving in to taboos, regardless of how it makes others feel; or Aksel, for that matter, who far from being proud of her, would rather she put her brazenness to better use. A dancing party that Julie instigates ends in disaster. Couples fight at night; notwithstanding, they also reconcile the following morning because long-lasting relationships take that kind of effort. Julie witnesses that and more, including Aksel’s tender side when he interacts with children. But these are the lives of others, not hers. If anything, for Julie these are revelatory signs that marriage, family, bearing children are not meant for her. Or is it that her particular brand of self-centeredness is toxic and affects those around her negatively? What makes Julie a puzzle worth considering and empathising with, though, are her moments of insight. That night she tells Aksel, “It’s my fault. (…) It is. I always overdo it.” Needless to say, this is not the first film about a young woman at the center of her own myopic world, but it is an illuminating example of a distinct premise: Those who in order to compensate for their insecurities and feelings of emptiness invariably put themselves before others don’t have much to give to the world or themselves. In radical contrast to Julie, take a character like the protagonist of Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001), who deals with her own feelings of inadequacy by coming up with crazy schemes to make things better for others. Or on a more serious tone, Mona, the lead of Vagabond (Agnès Varda, 1985), uncannily played by Sandrine Bonnaire, wanders through life committed to the vicissitudes of being a hobo. She never really changes herself, going against the holy tenet of Screenwriting 101 that stipulates that characters must go through an arc and change. She doesn’t. More interestingly, just about everyone who comes into contact with her ends up being profoundly transformed by Mona’s commitment to freedom and disavowing society’s rules. Even though things don’t end well for Mona, who is found frozen in a ditch, her self-awareness contains the safety valve of making sure she doesn’t hurt others, a mechanism alien to Julie.

Julie is in a special category of people so scarred by life or genetic wiring that they’ve become borderline sociopaths. As strong as the word sounds, it fits her, for she lacks empathy towards others and is only capable of acting to satisfy her own needs. A fascinating cinematic precursor of Julie is Adriana, the protagonist of Io la conoscevo bene (I Knew Her Well, Antonio Pietrangeli, 1965), a film that bears comparison though it has a less besotted, more entomological approach to its subject than this one. And to a certain degree, other precursors of Julie are the life-affirming antiheroines of 37°2 le matin (Betty Blue, Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1986) and Wish You Were Here (David Leland, 1987). 

Stefania Sandrelli in I Knew Her Well

Béatrice Dalle in Betty Blue

Emily Lloyd in Wish You Were Here

They all occasionally feel some remorse for their actions, but that won’t stop their erratic behaviors. What differs substantially are their outcomes, which should give us cause for relative uplift in terms of their chronological progression: Adriana, Mona, and Betty all end up tragically. Lynda (exquisitely played by Emily Lloyd in Wish You Were Here) is humiliated but stands up to the narrowminded inhabitants of her uptight English seaside town. Will Julie be able to conjure up these and other cinematic spirits, learn from the trajectories of the “worst persons in the world”, and fare well in the end? Let us hope so, but not in the sense of cashing in on women’s lib, like those surreal Virginia Slims cigarette ads that equated female smoking with being emancipated: “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Have you, really? Julie is going to go through a rough ride, but – spoiler alert – she will get there in the end; however, there are still 11 chapters to go, so brace yourself, dear viewer/reader.

II. Cheating

The aftermath of the weekend with others could have provided the opportunity for Julie to discuss with Aksel their situation and see if there was still some solid common ground, a mutually agreeable path to explore forward as a couple. Instead, the film loops to the opening shot at the end of the dolly-in, when Julie was making up her mind to move in the opposite direction. She feels trapped and must act accordingly. It doesn’t help that back at the party in Aksel’s honour people ask her yet again what her line of work is (“I work in a bookstore”), fans are clamouring for Aksel’s autograph, and Aksel is not making it a priority to spend time with her, a syndrome of taking her for granted, which tends to be a fatal flaw. When Julie announces she’s going home, he doesn’t try to convince her to stay, maybe out of respect, maybe to avoid the sort of embarrassment he felt when she blurted out to his friends that “if men had periods, that’s all we’d ever hear about”. In the context of Aksel’s professional success, at best Julie feels invisible; at worst, she is visible as someone not worth being seen.

Julie takes a long walk home and impulsively crashes a party in which, after a few drinks, she has fun at the expense of others. She feigns being a doctor and assures a woman that if she cuddles her children, they will turn out to be drug-addicts. (This comment will gain significance later when we meet Julie’s father, who wants nothing to do with her.) It is at this party that she meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), who intellectually is several tiers below both Aksel and Julie; hence, a perfect rebound target for her. The affair technically starts with Julie’s assertion that “nothing’s going to happen” because she’s in love with someone else. If you need to announce that, the rest of the script has already been written. Eivind says he’s in the same boat and doesn’t want to cheat either. Case closed… for about three seconds, until Julie says, “But where do you draw the line?” Answer: Everything she’s about to do that she won’t be able to share with Aksel.

What follows is a series of vignettes that shows Julie using Eivind as a puppet to break her chains from Aksel. She completely objectifies him sexually. If he were Black rather than Caucasian, this would be a case of “Jungle Fever” – a malady that weak-minded people see as “woke” when in fact it’s the syndrome of a loveless, self-destructive physical “relation”. The key to a lasting relationship, as proven by worthwhile movies (including this one) and in due time by life itself is intellectual compatibility. Without it, all goes to waste.

But until Julie lives and learns, they playfully bite each other, smell armpits, pee and break wind together, blow smoke into each other’s mouths as a placeholder for kissing, and in a moment that gives us unmitigated access into Julie’s psyche, she reveals to Eivind that she “likes sex best when the dick isn’t too hard because, in a way, then I’m the one who makes it hard.” If a relationship in Julie’s mind is indeed about who exerts control, Eivind is tailor-made for her. Not only will she effortlessly hold the balance of power, but he will look up to her uncritically and like a wind-up toy give her validation on demand. Problem is, she’s not stupid and such an arrangement will wear thin and make her lose all respect, if not downright despise him. At the end of their first encounter, they part with the mutual reassurance that they didn’t cheat, which is as naïve as making a pact to have sex without getting emotionally involved. Julie is about to take a nosedive into a pointless rebound affair: shallow, flesh-driven, and most symptomatic, based on weakness rather than strength.

III. Oral Sex

This chapter begins with Aksel and Julie working at home. He’s drawing and she’s fundamentally bored. She approaches Aksel, flashes him, and he smiles the way busy parents do when their child shows them a drawing. 

The Worst Person in the World              

She returns to her laptop, and in a rather unconvincing moment of arbitrary cinematic timing, voilà, a thought pummels her head and Julie becomes a writer. She commits to the blank page some of her ideas on sexuality. Can a woman enjoy being mouthfucked and still be a feminist? What if being forced upon turns you on? Plus, of course, her mantra of creating the stiffness instead of having it thrust upon you. She shows her piece to Aksel, since she’s still at the point where she needs his intellectual validation. He finds it over the top but well written, cerebral but at the same time the sort of thing that “turns me on, too”. And he doesn’t mean his neurons. He adds, “Is that why you wrote it?” His objectifying reaction should have probably upset her but it doesn’t. Julie is ecstatic that Aksel approves. They have sex. The female narrator reassures us that Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo set off a lively Facebook debate. Was Julie part of it? Mmmh, no. This plot twist does not live up to its promise. As far as we know, Julie never writes again, or at least not anything worth mentioning.

IV. Our Own Family

Though we had met Julie’s mom briefly, here we get a fuller picture of her family situation. It’s Julie’s 30th birthday. Her parents have not been together for a long time. Julie is distraught because her father cannot attend her birthday lunch due to a backache pain. Julie’s mom, grandmother, and Aksel try to make the most of the occasion. Her mother praises her sex article, but grandma hasn’t heard anything about it. Julie looks at her intently, and this moment sets off a formalist sequence where the omniscient female narrator takes over by giving us an overview of what Julie’s female ancestors had accomplished by the age of 30, starting with grandma herself, who played Rebecca West in Ibsen’s Rosmersholm at the National Theater. What they all had in common was that they had borne several children and their paths were mapped out way beyond Julie’s life experience or expectations at 30. While the experimental-narrative detour acquires a life of its own that helps keep the tone upbeat – akin to comparable scenes in Amélie or Lola rennt (Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer, 1998) – we also get the feeling through the camera movement, the music, and the essay-like montage that Julie is aware of all this, adding to her existential duress. Julie is in a state of indecisiveness that her female ancestors could not afford to have when daily life offered no respite. She’s in limbo and it’s not clear if there’s a way out or not.

The visit to her dad helps us understand Julie’s need for (what she perceives as) control in her relationships with men. Julie is perhaps at her most vulnerable here. While not necessarily a monster, her dad couldn’t care less about her. It turns out he lied about his back pain. He was at a soccer game with his younger daughter from a different marriage, of whom he’s obviously proud in a way that he’s not about Julie. As an involuntary exercise in masochism, Julie asks if he read her article. Oops, no, he meant to tell her that he couldn’t open the link. Unfortunately Trier and his perennial co-writer Eskil Vogt opted for dad’s cop-out over showing us his reaction to Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo, which would have been priceless. Unless that is exactly what we’re seeing; maybe he did read it and has chosen to erase it from his consciousness. Reinsve’s acting is spot on in this scene. She can see through this man, but she’s incapable of confronting him. And to top off the awkwardness, Aksel tries to help out the situation by telling him, “You have to read that article. It’s really good. Very… very well written.” An ill-timed choice of words, no doubt. Finally, Aksel suggests Julie’s dad visit them in Oslo, and he gives ludicrous excuses for why he can’t. He never will. He has no respect for his daughter, and she knows it… and it hurts.

V. Bad Timing

One day Julie is working at the bookstore and, lo and behold, Eivind shows up. At first it seems like one of those absurdly convenient movie coincidences that defy logic. Why would Eivind be in a place with books in the first place? As fate would have it, he’s accompanying his girlfriend, the one he told Julie he was in love with just as Julie assured Eivind of her loyalty to Aksel. Eivind shows interest in rekindling the fuse and this is all the catalyst Julie needs… At this moment in her life, flesh trumps the mind and thoughtless validation is what she most needs. In case of doubt, she and Aksel are having dinner at home with the couple who fought and reconciled during their weekend in the country, and Julie feels like a nonentity. She is also photographed as one, receding into the shadows. Moreover, Aksel is yet again not including her into the conversation. He discusses Freud with their guests and then complains of how his comic book creation, Bobcat, is being turned into a travesty of a movie adaptation. All that Julie ever once found enticing about Aksel now repels her. She seems to feel alluded when Aksel says, “Bobcat is a wild cat in a world of domestic cats. He’s a rebel against the bourgeoisie.” At night she lies awake, wondering what to do with the pressure-cooker sensation about to burst her soul. In the morning, nothing has subsided, only more of the same. She approaches Aksel in the kitchen, he offers her coffee, she turns on the light, and… Aksel freezes, not figuratively but literally. 

The Worst Person in the World

The Worst Person in the World

The Worst Person in the World

And so does everyone else in Oslo. Julie walks and then runs through the streets past hundreds of frozen, inanimate people, as if time had stood still to celebrate her epiphany. She is on her way to claim the object of her desire, Eivind, at the coffee shop where he works. It is a stylised cinematic representation of a subjective state of mind; a highly original, impressive scene, for many viewers, I’m sure, the most memorable one in the entire film; a depiction of what falling (in love?) is like when emotions take over and a terminal choice is made to suspend thought evermore.

Time-freeze scenes have been used in movies before for different purposes. In sci-fi movies like The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999) and X2: X-Men United (Bryan Singer, 2003), they set apart main characters – Morpheus and Charles Xavier – by showing how they can manipulate time and differentiate themselves from ordinary people. The way it is used in The Worst Person in the World brings to mind Cashback (Sean Ellis, 2006), where the time freeze also happens in a realistic context, though to opposite effect in that it allows the main character, Ben Willis, to observe closely, find the beauty of, and identify with the frozen people. “With the world on pause, it becomes very easy to understand the concept of beauty” are words he articulates that are far from Julie’s sensibility. New Yorker critic Richard Brody also cites The Future (Miranda July, 2011) as a reference for the time-freeze scene, making it clear that he much prefers its use in the American indie film: “There, the sequence is mighty, with a cosmic premise and a cosmic power, and its effect is both romantic and psychologically far-reaching” (as opposed to) “In The Worst Person in the World, it’s obvious what the sequence means and does even before it starts; it’s a mere illustration for a point that has already been made and a mere setup for a plot point that, somewhat anticlimactically, follows.”3 Brody is one of the few detractors of Trier’s film and mercifully he’s not rehashing the same automaton praise that many critics are lavishing on this movie. That said, is Julie really “freezing the world for the sake of love”, as Brody claims? Or is there more to this narrative stasis?

Depending on the viewer’s empathy or lack thereof for Julie, this scene can also be viewed as the sublimation of her self-centeredness. She is so caught into her own mind games that the outside world stops existing. No one else matters. An anthem for the ages: I, me, mine; this is my truth and I’ll make-believe that my actions have no consequences. She is so proud to be the one in control, to be able to see the road and feel she’s the one driving (running) on it, that she fails to acknowledge others – the perfect metaphor for her somewhat sociopathic behavior. 

When she gets to Eivind, he is not frozen. He is willingly sucked into her world. They kiss, they chat (not about Freud), they hold hands, they go to a romantic spot from where they can see the uninhabited, paralysed city, and all feels momentarily “great”. Kudos to the editor, Olivier Bugge Coutté, for a powerful example of dialectic montage: Cut from Eivind’s and Julie’s smitten expressions in singles to a shot of both of them – the synthesis – sharing the frame, depressed, foreshadowing their demise. 

The Worst Person in the World

Eivind asks, “What are we going to do?” Silence. More kissing. Julie takes off, the camera stays on Eivind, and Julie comes back into frame for one more kiss, in a moment evocative of the first kiss between Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in À bout de souffle… (Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard, 1960). This is not Trier’s only nod to the recently departed French auteur. The 12 chapters in The Worst Person in the World inevitably conjure up the 12 tableaux in Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live, Jean-Luc Godard, 1962), and the epigraph by Montaigne at the beginning of Godard’s film is the perfect epilogue for Julie: “Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.”4 My Life to Live is Godard’s attempt to dissect Nana and his convoluted feelings for the actress who plays her, his wife and on-and-off muse Anna Karina, whose life gets ruthlessly cut short in the last shot of My Life to Live. In movies as in life, all’s well that stays unresolved. With clarity of vision comes the end of affairs.

The Worst Person in the World

After she detaches herself from Eivind and rearranges a frozen hugging couple (very Amélie-like), an elated Julie (the film’s poster) runs back home to Aksel. Julie resumes the loop where they had paused by turning off the light. Aksel hands her the cup of coffee and she retorts with the proverbial “We need to talk.” Not to be understated, the problem now is that the deed is done. During the loop, Julie has betrayed Aksel in thought, word, and most poignantly, deed, so whatever she says will feebly stand for an apology for why she did what she did. That is the dramatic significance of the time-freeze scene. What she saw as emancipating herself and felt so exhilarating actually doomed her relationship with Aksel forever. Had she had the conversation prior to the time freeze, their relationship could have been saved, amended, and even improved, but Julie was convinced that she already knew the script ahead of time and there was no point in discussing things with a suitably impenetrable Aksel. It’s the cowardice and ignorance of those who think they know the outcome of things before they materialise, so better dismiss reality and construct a self-serving fantasy. It’s ironic that the “cool scene” in the movie that most viewers talk about due to its undeniable formal qualities also happens to be the one most misunderstood, the one responsible for sinking Julie and Aksel’s ship. It’s not a depiction of “freezing the world for the sake of love”; it’s more about how self-delusion leads to the kind of suspension of thought that culminates in betrayal.

Hence, what Julie says when the loop is over has no moral validity and it comes across as gibberish. The female narrator does her best to help make sense of Julie’s monologue. The gist of it is that she believes she and Aksel were victims of bad timing. They met in different phases of life and therefore now want different things. Aksel asks if she realises what she’s destroying. She says she does, which might be true to a certain extent because, again, she’s not a fool, just pathologically self-centered. Aksel cannot wrap his head around this. Julie reiterates, “I’ve had it,” regurgitating what she had told her first boyfriend we met when she switched from medicine to psychology: “I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to.” In both cases, the enigma word is “it”. What is it that she has had and cannot take anymore? Most probably the common denominator: herself; but such clarity of mind still eludes her. Then she adds with tears in her eyes that what she’s doing feels right, to which Aksel, who is not a fool either, asks if she has met someone… “No,” she lies.

The Worst Person in the World

This lie invalidates what Julie thinks she’s doing here. She’s going about her breakup as if she’s in a quest for self-discovery, which would be a tad more believable if she were willing to spend some time on her own to confront her own demons. Basically Julie is switching from a complex man whom she perceives as intellectually superior and more accomplished than her to an innocuous dimwit whom she can control at will. If that suits her, so be it, but the real problem is believing a relationship is a battlefield of egos, rather than a common-ground arena from which a couple can engage battle together. If she neglects to see this, just like she failed to see all the people on the street during the time-freeze sequence, she’ll soon be repeating a variation of this scenario with her new lover. Aksel and Eivind may be diametrically opposite, but Julie is still the same person. She tells Aksel she’s terrified of being alone and she knows that without him she’ll be “like Bambi on the ice”, and this is precisely why she has to do “it”; ie: extricate herself from him. Because he loves her, Aksel starts coming to terms with the idea that she needs to be alone to find her own stride. But as long as “it” is based on a lie, nothing will change and Julie will be caught in another kind of loop, less fantasy-driven and more grimly realistic.

They have sex for the last time, which serves no purpose, and an elliptical cut to a shared moment of emptiness explains why. They’ve hit bottom. 

The Worst Person in the World

Aksel assures Julie she’ll regret it and warns her that the relationships she’ll have in the future will only make her realise what they had was unique. She knows; she mutters that maybe they’ll get back together someday. Aksel, the female narrator, and the farewell tracking shot all know they won’t. 

The Worst Person in the World

A line has been crossed from which there is no return, and it’s not even about the betrayal or lying as much as it is about Julie blaming the wrong person for her own limitations. Instead of confronting herself in the mirror, she hurts Aksel and drifts on to an impulsive rebound relationship with Eivind that is doomed before it even starts.

VII. Finnmark Highlands

The film takes a brief detour to gain insight into Eivind’s backstory with his girlfriend, Sunniva, and whatever led him to believe that he was improving his condition by betraying her in turn and starting a new chapter with Julie. In a nutshell, Sunniva has also embarked on a journey of self-discovery but, contrary to Julie, she is doing productive things and seems to have a worthwhile cause, however trying it might be for Eivind to keep up with her newfound identity as 3.1% Sami (a Scandinavian ethnic minority) and her rising preoccupation with climate change, the environment, and leading a sustainable life of yoga and mind-expanding drugs. It should be noted that this information is presented via a tongue-in-cheek montage that makes Sunniva come across as a cult follower turned social-justice warrior and Eivind as a pitiable victim of her incurable obsessions. In our day and age’s climate, has anyone yet accused Trier of misogyny? Be as it may, the female narrator lets us know that, on the eve of a betrayal he cannot resist, Eivind felt like the world’s worst person, paradoxically embodying the title of the film in a way that Julie’s pride doesn’t allow for. Is it because she truly finds justification in her unilateral reasons, or is it simply a mechanism of self-defence to keep her from jumping out a window?

VIII. A New Chapter

Their new chapter is introduced with Julie and Eivind copulating with a vengeance, as opposed to how Julie and Aksel’s lovemaking had gradually evolved into a form of communication. Not to be missed, the new lovers do not look into each other’s eyes, just self-gratification. Julie is purging her demons as Eivind pumps away. Not surprisingly, they agree not to have children. That’s not all they have in common: Eivind also has a dad who sees him as a child. Julie discovers that Eivind still follows Sunniva on Instagram. She zooms on the ex’s yoga-sculpted buttocks and remarks that she doesn’t want to be “the sensible choice while she’s the sexy one”. In a rare moment of insight, Eivind replies that there’s nothing sensible about Julie.

IX. Julie’s Narcissistic Circus

A reunion with Eivind’s friends proves to be a milestone in Julie’s journey of self-discovery. Rather than being asked to partake in a discussion on Freud to which she’d have little to contribute, she reveals how much she loves people to watch her when she dances. Everyone agrees, as she’s stating the obvious. Easy to navigate her truth when the pool is so shallow. She’s in control, and Eivind poses no threat to her ego: “Everyone, look at me!” she hollers. One of Eivind’s friends calls her “mysterious”, which seems to please her. Julie is in a stifled heaven of her own making, but is this really what she needs to find some semblance of inner peace? My argument is not that the answer lay necessarily on her relationship with Aksel, particularly given Julie’s misconception of boundaries, but it is definitely not to be found in the new life she has replaced it with. What Julie needs is to spend time alone with Julie so she can find something to be proud of within herself, not in being validated by others, especially those in Eivind’s circle. God bless him, he’s sweet and nice to her, but as the Paul Simon lyrics state, he’s “empty as a pocket with nothing to lose”.5 Whereas Julie is anything but empty; she has great potential to be a person of invaluable service to herself and the world but for the moment is sorely off-track.

In this spirit of misguidedness, she experiments with hallucinogenic mushrooms and – surprise, surprise – she has a bad trip. For someone obsessed with “control”, drugs are probably not the best way to go. The mental dam is wide open and a torrent of images that she would normally block out pour in uncontrollably. As critics Alci Rengifo and Sebastian Carrasco state in their insightful podcast Breaking the 180 vis-à-vis Harper’s hallucinations in Men (Alex Garland, 2022), “As she’s trying to mind her own business in the real world, these things find their way of barging in and confronting her in ways that she would have never asked for.”6. Not unlike many young women consumed by body-image afflictions, in her hallucination Julie lives through her worst nightmare of becoming old, fat, and wrinkly. Would she be the sort to shave off years on her Internet profiles? (Interestingly, Reinsve is three years older than the character she’s playing). The effect of the mushrooms intensifies: Lots of people, mostly men, help themselves to her decaying body. 

The Worst Person in the World

Eivind tries to intervene but Julie rejects him in favor of approaching her father, oblivious as ever. She confronts him by getting naked, extracting a bloody tampon from her vagina, and hurling it at his face. An imaginary audience laughs at her, as do Aksel and his creation, Bobcat. Julie uses her menstrual blood to paint warrior marks under her eyes. She’s ready for battle against these men but is suddenly distracted by a baby breastfeeding on her deformed body. Bobcat snatches the baby away from her, swallows him whole in a hotdog, and his loud burp wakes up Julie, who still bears traces of the bloody warrior marks. 

As Julie resurfaces from her unbridled sojourn in hell, Eivind is gentle and accepting. That night she reassures him that with him, she can be herself, completely. “You weren’t yourself before?” he asks. Good question. Her answer is cryptic: “I was, but I felt like I had to be… a bit… like I was when we first met.” A cheater? Eivind groans as if he follows her singular train of thought, mumbles “I love you”, and goes to sleep. Julie stares at him for a moment and turns away but also profoundly inward. Who is she kidding? This is not who she is, this is not what she wants, he is not whom she loves. Not that she knows the alternatives – probably never will – but for now it feels that, yet again, she has driven herself full speed into a cul-de-sac. As a sidenote, Reinsve is at her best in these moments of introspection, conveying emotional clarity and, as far as Julie goes, the exceptional moments of honesty that, in spite of her narcissism, keep us rooting for her.

X. Bobcat Wrecks Xmas

It’s Christmas, the Bobcat movie is out, and Julie is exercising at the gym when Aksel appears on a television screen. Looking glum, he’s being interviewed in relation to the film’s release. Julie is flabbergasted. One can only imagine what is going on through her head. It’s clear she has had no contact whatsoever with Aksel, so this is the closest she can get to him aside from a chance encounter that would petrify her. But here she’s in control, her favorite state of mind, except for the risk of confronting what she legitimately feels for Aksel. She stops the treadmill and pays undivided attention to the interview, in stark contrast to the alienation she suffered at that reception on Aksel’s behalf when she was making up her mind to leave him. What is unique about this scene is that it’s the first time we see Julie empathise with someone else. And for all practical purposes she’s alone here, so she’s not putting on an act for an audience, as she often does. Much to her and our surprise, Julie cares, and for all the right reasons. The interview itself is a character-assassination blitzkrieg against Aksel. A self-righteous, post-feminist young woman with an axe to grind is taking Aksel to task for Bobcat and what it stands for in her view. It’s every male artist’s dread of cancel culture meets a particular variant of post-#MeToo radical thought: decontextualise art, find fault at every turn, and burn someone at the stake. Mind you, I’d like to emphasise that she’s not attacking Aksel for things he might have done in his personal life. Her poison is aimed at his creative work. In a manner of speaking, she’s out to vilify, say, Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965) for being Polanski’s rather than the man himself for having done something repulsive in the real world that led to six charges involving drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. “We’re discussing your work right now, so nobody’s censoring you. As a woman, I’m upset. I’m offended, though you’re not supposed to say that,” asserts the TV hostess. To which Aksel replies, “You have a choice. You don’t have to feel offended. (…) This is very generational.” Julie changes gears, from surprise to concern. From her vantage point as a member of such generation, she realises that Aksel is making a mistake by engaging with a person who is not in the slightest interested in listening to him, let alone understanding what he means: His “I want art to be a form of therapy where I can express and work through all my unacceptable thoughts, all my darkest impulses” is countered by her “But you’re using your male privilege to mock people weaker than you. It’s hardly art or even humor.” Is there a hint of meta-cinematic reflection in this scene? Aren’t these allegations that could be made against Trier in his approach to Julie’s character? In any case, Aksel’s fall from grace helps Julie resurface.

XI. First Person Singular

If you go by its Norwegian original, this chapter is entitled Civilisation and Its Discontents, after Sigmund Freud’s book on psychoanalysis published in 1930.7 In the lexicon of this film, we associate Freud with Aksel and his purported analysing of Julie’s psyche that she deemed so unpleasant. The English subtitle of this chapter, First Person Singular, helps illuminate the narrative, for here we see the beginning of Julie’s conscious transformation in going from a completely self-serving individual to someone who can step out of her cocoon and experience the world in a less selfish, more giving way. As stated earlier, Julie needs to spend time with herself, alone in good company, to understand what runs in her veins, what matters to her outside of herself, and just as importantly, that there is more to life than seeking validation in men who mainly want to have sex with her or dodge her like her dad – save for Aksel, who saw something in her that she herself couldn’t recognise. Even her job uniform points in that direction, featuring the motto “I’m happy to help!” – something we have not seen Julie exert herself with until now. In fact, all we know about her gravitates around her relationships with men, rather than getting to know that “first person singular”. What turns Julie on in life aside from stiffening flaccid penises? I mean this question with all due respect. The film hasn’t bothered to give us any insight into other aspects of her life. Whatever happened to her writing, why was she at some point interested in photography, what is her sense of identity regardless of men… Is she ever happy without a little boost from booze? Does she have any female friends? Any political inclinations? Does she follow the news? Ever read a book or magazine article? A movie that affected her, perhaps? Anything? Does Trier even care, or is Julie primarily a symbol for a specific sector of Millennials coming of age in a social-media vacuum who are irredeemably self-centered and feel like the world owes them something because they’re oh-so-special (even if they do nothing relevant or of service to others) and mostly keen on following their own “truths”, hollow as these might be? We are indeed sightless until our eyes learn to see. In First Person Singular, Julie wakes up. It is too bad that it takes a tragedy for her to do so, but at least we are rewarded with the proof that we’ve been following the right person, who is certainly not the worst one in the world. There is more to Julie than what has met the eye.

Julie is working at the bookstore when she receives the news that Aksel has pancreatic cancer, followed by a scene of Julie thinking, at long last, about “the other”. She is not doing what she normally does: suspend thought, remain unconscionable, distract herself by busying herself with inconsequential activities. Surrounded by children’s books, Reinsve excels at showing the wheels of her thought-process incessantly turning. Mindful of not going into overdrive, Trier and cinematographer Kasper Tuxen do their share by leaving the camera still, in a full shot of Julie, creating a powerful moment of elegant cinematic restraint.

The Worst Person in the World          

Back in their place, Eivind is oblivious to the fact that Julie has been wondering why she left Aksel for him, of all people. Timing is not on his side. He finds in the recycling something Julie wrote, and she finds him reading it, or as she puts it, “going through my trash is pretty invasive”. What follows is a textbook example of psychological displacement. Eivind tries to compliment her writing and Julie berates him in every imaginable way. Her reaction shows what we’ve known all along: This was an impulsive, kamikaze rebound relationship with someone who doesn’t fulfill her emotionally or intellectually, and by now chances are the sex is not that thrilling either. Unbeknownst to him, Eivind uses virtually the same words Aksel once used to describe her writing – “That resonates with me. It’s well written. Truly good.” – except Aksel had a frame of reference and poor Eivind doesn’t. Julie looks at him as if vermin were crawling out of his mouth and, choosing her words carefully, cruelly, seismically, she goes for permanent damage: “Suddenly you’re into literature. What was the last book you read?” she challenges him. Eivind asks her to relax, pointing out that lately she criticises everything he does. Julie: “Relax? Relaxing is your specialty! You don’t mind serving coffee till you’re 50.” 

The Worst Person in the World

Where does so much cruelty come from? Eivind is hurt, doesn’t know what else to say, and leaves the scene of his own bloody murder. With the emotional clarity that Reinsve brings into her performance, it dawns on Julie that she doesn’t hate Eivind: She hates herself for not having had the courage to try to fix things with Aksel, whom she betrayed and left for a guy who is not necessarily a bad person – he’s just there but not there, or at least not for her. And Aksel was there for her, and now he’s dying. 

XII. Positive

As divine justice would have it, Julie finds out she’s pregnant. Ironically enough, that was a point of contention with Aksel, who wanted to have children, but she didn’t, or not in the conceivable future. Moreover, she and Eivind had agreed not to risk parenthood, so now she must also own up to that. Her life is unravelling. She is facing issues in her life that are serious, not ego-driven fodder. But it would seem that such catalysts are precisely what she needed to imbue her life with purpose and meaning.

I had mentioned earlier Adriana, the protagonist of Io la conoscevo bene (I Knew Her Well, Antonio Pietrangeli, 1965), as a cinematic precursor of Julie. Like Julie in the first two acts of The Worst Person in the World, Adriana’s every move is geared towards fulfilling her own impulsive desires. Men are attracted to her so it’s easy to get what she wants from them. She believes she’s in control until life teaches her that she’s been a trainwreck, she’s been used and abused, and her best years have gone by without her accomplishing anything of substance. In the last shot of the movie, it’s implied she jumped out her window and put an end to a senseless existence. It’s a dire, cautionary tale that you don’t wish on anyone, even if they’ve willfully injured others. Hurt people hurt, true enough, but in the end no one worse than themselves.

Julie knows better than to jump out a window. She has unresolved issues with Aksel, so she pays him a visit in the hospital. Besides, she can talk to him about the two life forces pulling her in opposite directions: his death and her birth (ie: the child she’s carrying within). Deep inside, she trusts him, as she should. For all her feelings of insecurity around him in the past, he accepted her as she was and never really judged her, as she will acknowledge in the last chapter of the film. Showing up is half of it; courage, always more noble than cowardice. Her internal compass points in the right direction, and there’s dignity, compassion, and mutual respect in the way Julie and Aksel interact in the hospital – the unequivocal legacy of having loved and been loved.

The time they spend together confirms that they care about each other deeply and that it is possible for them to communicate in an open, honest, nonjudgemental way. They talk about their differences which, rather than being a formula for disaster, could have helped them complement each other. So what if he’s a bit older if she could make him feel young and not ever give up? So what if she’s less “cultured” if he could make her feel like growing and sucking the marrow out of life? As they converse in the garden, Julie is more attentive than we’ve ever seen her before. She’s not concocting what to say next so as to make a prefabricated impression. She can articulate things without putting her sense of self at stake. She is in the here and now and is giving as much as she’s receiving. “You’ve got the comics you created. I wish I’d had what you had. To be able to draw without doubting that you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. I really wish I had that,” she confides. She is not fighting a duel anymore. Her acknowledgment and gratitude for what they represent to each other means she can look forward to what lies ahead. Although Aksel can only look back, Julie’s visit is a great gift for him that he’ll be able to take on his journey of no return.

Right before she reveals to Aksel that she’s pregnant, Julie’s voiceover takes over. It replaces the omniscient female narrator who until this moment had to intercede for us to try to grasp Julie’s volatile actions. Thus, we gain access to Julie’s inner voice, which gives us – and Julie – the comfort of unabashed truth: “I felt I could tell you anything. You wouldn’t judge me. You’re the least judgemental person I know.” But Aksel cannot hear these words, so Julie transitions from her internal voice to saying out loud what she thinks and means, no filters applied: “I don’t have anyone I can talk to the way we used to talk,” she tells him. To Trier’s credit, the film applies restraint; just when things could have gone mushy, Aksel gives Julie a look laden with emotional clarity, as if saying, “No, you don’t, you blew it.” 

The Worst Person in the World

The Worst Person in the World

Julie shares that she’s pregnant and she doesn’t know if she feels good or bad about it. Aksel reassures her that she’d make a good mother even if she doubts it. And then, a gift out of pure love: “If I regret one thing, it’s that I never managed to make you see how wonderful you are,” he tells her. Julie’s nonverbal reaction to Aksel’s comment is my favorite shot in the whole movie: 22 seconds of cinematic bliss as Julie contemplates that this is coming from the one person she respects most in the world, who also happens to be the one she has hurt the worst. This moment alone justifies Reinsve winning Best Actress at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and any other great role that ought to come along her way. 

Julie’s reaction to Aksel’s “… I never managed to make you see how wonderful you are.”

Just as I wanted that moment to last forever, Aksel asks, “What are you thinking?” Julie laughs-cries when she replies, “This is hard to hear.” Aksel confesses that, when they were together, he spent a lot of time worrying about what could go wrong between them, and what did go wrong was the one thing he never worried about – her loyalty. But he’s not here to cast stones at her for past sins. Whether she’s aware of it or not, she’d like his advice on what to do about her pregnancy. So he adds, “If he’s a kind man, then go for it.”

Their conversation continues in a more private setting, Aksel’s hospital bed, with a tacit agreement not to have any physical contact beyond a tender embrace. At one point, Aksel places his hand on her breast and she gently removes it, sending a clear message not to confuse things. It is refreshing to see Julie in genuine control, having agency of her own body without any ulterior agenda. They keep reminiscing about their shared memories that are soon going to be split in half with his death. Julie will be the sole carrier of the projects they might have dreamt together, if not of his child. A highly effective cut interrupts the long take, and Aksel asks a rhetorical question in search of honesty and closure: 

  • “Had you already met him when you broke up with me?” 
  • (Beat) “Yeah.” 
  • “Why didn’t you tell me?” 

Why, indeed? The spell is broken. Julie sits up in bed: “I don’t know. I didn’t dare.”
Aksel: “And now you’re breaking up with him?”
Julie is taken aback. “No, why do you say that?”
Aksel: “Maybe because you don’t seem happy about the baby.” And then he goes for the crux of the matter: “And that’s what you do when things get tough.”

Julie can’t handle that one. She gets up and walks away towards the window. She knows it’s true. Aksel apologises and she says it’s all right. He then tells her he wants her to know she was the love of his life, but as he says it he looks ineffably sad, not because he’s dying but because she didn’t live up to his expectations. Like us, he doesn’t believe she’s “the worst person in the world”. He now knows he placed his bet on the wrong person, and with his one life to live coming to an end, it’s a painful realisation. 

Now Julie has to make a comparably consequential decision regarding Eivind, and she wisely decides to place the bet on herself, rather than on him. She tells him she’s pregnant. She knows they don’t want kids as a couple, but she needs time to figure out if she wants one herself. She is beginning to know herself – better late than never. “I feel like I never see anything through. I go from one thing to another. I need time to think about all this.” In other words, she is indeed breaking up with Eivind, like Aksel predicted, but this time not to go find validation in another perfunctory bed. When Julie says she needs time to think about all this, we believe it; and much more importantly, she does. As a postscript, Eivind seems relieved, which will soon be proven to have been the case.

XIII. Everything Comes to an End

As part of their newfound friendship, Julie and Aksel visit his childhood home. He has deteriorated considerably, gaunt and hairless, and Julie radiates a calm self-assurance. She is past talking provocative sex in public or engaging in narcissistic behavior to make herself noticed. She doesn’t need to flirt anymore to feel wanted. She doesn’t have to see herself through Aksel’s eyes either. The key to self-worth lies elsewhere. She now understands that being in control has everything to do with herself, not with a misguided notion of “power balance” in a relationship. She seems mature, curious, focused, living outside herself while being in touch inwardly. Furthermore, her still-photography camera has been resurrected. The last time we had seen it was when Julie had a photo session that turned into sex with Mr. gold-capped teeth. Long gone are those days, replaced by a new sense of identity and self-respect. Now she’s using her camera to try to capture Aksel’s essence before he dies, just like Trier seems to be doing with this film to get to the bottom of Julie. 

The Worst Person in the World

Most of their intimate dialogue in this scene is conveyed through interior voices they can both hear and share, for glorious cinematic effect. There’s also a beautiful moment where Aksel shows her the small stained-glass windows on the landing outside his childhood apartment. These colors (red, yellow, blue – the three primary colors of art rather than physics) shaped the way he saw the world. Julie didn’t have something akin to this. In the words of Reinsve in the Criterion Collection Blu-ray commentary: “Anders (the actor who plays Aksel) had this idea that we would go as the characters to places that would mean a lot to the characters. But I didn’t really feel like Julie had any belonging yet, so it was really hard to find anywhere that really was something profoundly important to her.” Some people see life in vibrant color as children and others later in life. Some never do. What matters now is that Julie is capable of it, and by choice or necessity, she’ll have to do it by herself – 30 is not a bad age to start.

As the chapter’s title forewarns, all comes to an end. Aksel doesn’t want to be a memory or live through his art. He wishes he could live longer, ideally with Julie, and be happy together. But life seldom ever yields a second chance. Do we need a tragedy to befall on us so we wake up and come to our senses?

Julie gets a phone call warning her that Aksel will not make it through the night. She walks through the streets of Oslo in a sequence that both in form and content is diametrically opposite to the “time-freeze” one. Here Julie is at one with herself, aware of her surroundings, feeling empathy for someone whom she truly loves and who loved her in return. The sequence is steeped in realism, and it has its own form of magic, culminating with a sunrise that, Julie is painfully aware of, Aksel will not witness. In fact, we almost feel that when that first sunray of the new day caresses her face, it coincides with Aksel exhaling his last breath.

The Worst Person in the World

The Worst Person in the World

Julie bleeds in the shower, a miscarriage. She is not pregnant after all. She is relieved. This was not the time in her life to become a mother, and Eivind was not the father she would sincerely wish for. Perhaps there is no decision in life of greater consequence than whom to have a child with. Aksel is gone, but what she’s learned about herself, partly because of him, will stay with her until the end of time.


The coda reiterates that Julie is finally on the right track through her choice of spending time alone, and like Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll House, solace will allow her to understand herself, learn how to live abiding by a moral code, and assert herself as a human being mindful of others. It’s entirely up to her whether she even chooses to have another partner now that she doesn’t need one. Maybe this is when the right person will come along – when she’s not putting herself in the dating market, like a taggable commodity. Or not. There are other valid ways to lead a fulfilling life. 

Julie is working as a still photographer on a film set during Covid. The director is a jerk who scoffs at an actress for trying to find a moment of truth in her performance. He just wants her to shut up and shed a tear, which she does and, predictably enough, the outcome is as ridiculous as it is perfect for the director. Julie is told to take stills of the actress, but first she asks her if she’s okay. It’s a small but meaningful moment of empathy and understanding between women which the actress appreciates. She tells Julie she thinks she was pretty terrible. Julie is now in a position to give judicious advice. “Then use that. Hold on to that feeling. Act like you’re looking at him.” The actress does so and it does help. Julie is putting her budding art to good use.

Julie is packing her photography gear when she sees the actress leave the premises. Her husband has come to pick her up, carrying their baby… It’s Eivind, no less, the same one who didn’t want to have children with Julie. She can’t hold it against him, people change and, who knows, maybe he’s now found the right partner in the actress. What is certain is that seeing Eivind again doesn’t send shivers down her spine like when she saw Aksel on television. 

Julie goes home and sits down at her computer to work. She looks intently at the photos she took of the actress. Do they speak to her? Did she capture her internal life? Does she recognise her former self in the actress? A small, framed drawing of Bobcat with a young woman keeps an eye on her. The camera slowly dollies-out from Julie, revealing she’s sitting next to a window which will never have the allure that another fateful window had for the protagonist of I Knew Her Well

I Knew Her Well

I Knew Her Well

The Worst Person in the World

The Worst Person in the World

Julie is going to be fine. Trier has made a film that is as critical of Julie as it is full of hope, humanity, and the belief that one can live a better life if we have the courage to acknowledge our mistakes and fix the broken parts. In the end, it’s the only way we’ll have something valuable to give to others. Perhaps there is no explaining Julie, but it’s well worth taking a closer, more compassionate look. The Worst Person in the World, staring at us in the mirror, is all we can truly ever change.


  1. Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil (Harper Perennial, 1999)
  2. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_worst_person_in_the_world
  3. Richard Brody, “The Worst Person in the World Is a Sham, Except for Its Lead Performance,” The New Yorker (7 February 2022), https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/the-worst-person-in-the-world-is-a-sham-except-for-its-lead-performance
  4. Michel de Montaigne, Les Essais (1595), Book III, Chapter X. Of Managing the Will (Gallimard, 2021)
  5. Paul Simon. “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” Graceland. Sony, 1986.
  6. Sebastian Carrasco & Alci Rengifo, “Do We Recommend? Episode 2: ‘Men’,” Breaking the 180 (7 September 2022), https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/do-we-recommend-episode-2-men/id1615455265?i=1000578769765
  7. Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and It Discontents (W. W. Norton & Company, Reprint edition 2010)

About The Author

Salvador Carrasco is a Mexican film director based in Santa Monica, California. He is the writer, director, and editor of the highly acclaimed and influential feature film La otra conquista (The Other Conquest, 1999) about the Spanish colonization of Mexico, which was a cultural breakthrough and the highest-grossing historical drama in Mexican cinema at the time of its release. It was selected by The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times as one of the Top Ten Films of 2000, and re-released theatrically by Alliance Atlantis in 2008, achieving a 90% score by Rotten Tomatoes’ top critics. Carrasco has won numerous film and academic awards, and is currently developing new projects through his production company, Salvastian Pictures, including film adaptations of stories by preeminent writers Juan Gabriel Vásquez and Stephen Graham Jones. Carrasco has taught directing at USC and the LA Film School, and screenwriting at Pomona College as the Moseley Fellow in Creative Writing. Carrasco is a tenured film professor at Santa Monica College, where he is founder and Head of the Film Production Program, featured in Variety magazine. Carrasco has been a guest film director at CinemadaMare in Italy, along with directors Margarethe von Trotta, Paolo Sorrentino, and Krzysztof Zanussi. His critical essays have been published by the Los Angeles Times, the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), and The Nation Books, among others.

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