The writer/director of The Worst Person in the World ponders love, death and the possibility of a cosmic order to all things.
After a premiere in competition at Cannes which netted star Renate Reinsve the Best Actress trophy, and a whirlwind world tour packed with critical acclaim and a slew of glitzy award nominations, Danish-Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier reflects on the personal details at the heart of his character-driven dramedy The Worst Person in the World.
LWLies: This is the final film in your Oslo trilogy, following Reprise and Oslo, August 31st. I’d love to hear about your relationship with the city in your work.
Joachim Trier: I grew up in Oslo, so it’s intuitive material. I know what streets are cool and what streets I wouldn’t want to film on, and I have a good sense of how those narrative parts fit together. As an example, Axel, lives in a more posh, cultural part of town, whereas Eivind lives in Tøyen, which is the more newly gentrified hip neighbourhood. It’s very much like East and West London. Different parts have been gentrified or had a rebirth. It’s fun to play around with that. But I’m also reporting on a city in development, in the background behind the characters. We see a building site in Oslo 31st August when the main character comes out of rehab, with all these cranes; that building in The Worst Person in the World is where Eivind works in the coffee shop. All this stuff is there that wasn’t 10 years ago, so I’m tracing the expansion of the city.
It’s nice to see a hometown treated with such tenderness. If I made a film about my hometown, I don’t think I’d be as kind.
You know, I’ve never really thought about it like this before, but I think it’s like the characters in a way, having journeyed from resentment and this self-deprecation into more of an acceptance. In Reprise, my opening line, with these guys who want to be great writers, they say something like ‘We’ve got to get the hell out of here’. But I think that relationship with the city is like how a divorced person treats their ex with more love and tenderness after the fact.
And then there’s the fact Julie in the film has reached a place of self-acceptance within the world, by the end of the film.
There’s that John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” which I feel relates to the film a lot. We had a couple of quotes that come up while we were working, and one I made up was ‘To hate oneself is a lifelong romance’ which is a riff on Oscar Wilde’s “To love oneself is a lifelong romance”. There’s also the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who said “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards” which is kind of the endpoint of the film.