The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Millennial

in 66th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Ramón Rey

A portrait of the fleeting experience of those who grew up during the transition from the material to the immaterial, from analogue to digital, from cultural sexism to the #metoo movement.

We live in the era of liquid life and liquid love, as philosopher Zygmunt Bauman explained. The pace of the events surrounding us is overwhelming: the world changes at dramatic speed; politics transform from one day to the next; technology increases productivity, only to give workers fewer benefits; and relationships are created and destroyed faster than ever. We need to adapt accordingly, and in that process we are also but a simple reflection of the world and those who may be or not satisfied with us. “Choice” is the key word of the 21st century and choosing one option is the most difficult task while pondering the loss of everything you didn’t choose, along with the duty to take responsibility for your actions and accept their consequences. These themes are the foundation of The Worst Person in the World (Verdens verste menneske, 2021), the new film by Norwegian director Joachim Trier and the final entry in his Oslo Trilogy, following Reprise (2006) and Oslo, August 31st (2011).

The story, co-written with Trier’s long time collaborator Eskil Vogt, follows Julie (Renate Reinsve), a young student who takes on many different career choices with the support of her family. She jumps from medicine to psychology to photography. We see a direct correlation between the overstimulation of the average youngster by social media and the effect on the mind of the lead character in a humorous way. This satirical elements are very subtle and incisive through the movie, but are never intended to pull focus from its emotional and human aspects. These are developed through the relationship between Julie and her new boyfriend Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a graphic novelist fifteen years older who also inspires her to write. The episodic structure of the film, consisting of twelve chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, provides the perception of narrative fragmentation, a decision in keeping with the fluidity of Julie’s life and her ongoing crisis. How could she want to have children when she has so many years ahead and (unknown) goals to achieve?

Even the soundtrack includes an eclectic mix of genres, artists and eras, calibrating and recalibrating the evolving tone of the film with a very particular mood at every scene. Rinsve conveys Julie’s contradictions, doubts and uncertainties with a great sense of vulnerability and truthfulness. With her and the relationship with Askel at the film’s center, Trier is able to portray the fleeting life experience of those who grew up during the transition from the material to the immaterial, from analogue to digital, from cultural sexism to the #metoo movement, a profound set of changes many lack the capacity or desire to adapt to. This conflict is expressed through a criticism strongly linked to narrative and formal elements and Trier underlines in one of the most funny and awkward moments of the film, when Aksel speaks against so-called political correctness and cancel culture on a feminist radio show broadcast on TV.

There is a certain ambiguity in the way the handheld camera captures Julie and her decisions, leaving the moral perspective in the hands of the audience. This naturalistic perspective of the cinematography also creates a strangeness in several moments, generating a contrast between the story’s realism and the characters’ actions during moments of flirtation or drug abuse, which are distinct from the dreamlike sequence describing a fantasy fugue that represents the very heart of the movie. We are our desires and longings. And in a world of eternal promises of limitless satisfaction we have to choose which ones might shape us into the person we want to be.

Ramón Rey
Edited by José Teodoro