We Are All “The Worst Person in the World”

January 24, 2022

Graphic by Lianne Sung

When I can be anything I want to be, how should I choose?

prolog. / prologue.

Julie runs through the streets of Oslo.

She is running away — from her boyfriend, fifteen years older than her, who she has just realized is boring, stifling, not right.

All of Oslo is waiting, still, holding their breath in this moment in time.

She is also running towards something — a new man, a man her own age, a man she met at a party, yes, but also an idea, a feeling.

She is running towards a new life, her own life.

She is running between two versions of herself.

She is running to be free.

kapittel 1. / chapter 1.

The Worst Person in the World is a Norwegian film that follows a young woman, Julie, through four years of her life, from her late twenties to early thirties. She navigates relationships and career paths, life and death, as she tries to figure out who she’s supposed to be.

I love this movie because it depicts life in all its messy realities. It defies categorization. The Worst Person in the World is a romance, but Julie doesn’t end up with anyone. It’s a coming-of-age story, although she’s 30. It’s funny and dramatic in equal measure, and explores all sides of the human experience.

kapittel 2. / chapter 2.

When I applied to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I couldn’t conceive of a life beyond where I was in high school, and I certainly couldn’t conceive of a career after college. I would be a completely different person by then; how was I supposed to know what she would want?

There’s so many expectations on college students to have a defined plan. We should know exactly what we want to study, how that major will set us up for success, and where we’re going to go after college.

I have always lived in the moment. It was hard for me to plan ahead that far, so I went with my gut and chose to major in journalism. I’m good at it and I can see myself doing it in the future, but I’m still not sure. There are just so many options out there, and I could see myself happily pursuing many of them, from law school to English to film.

I saw my own uncertainty mirrored in Julie’s story. A key part of The Worst Person in the World is Julie’s indecision about her career. The film’s prologue shows her switching between college majors, with none of them sticking. She ends up in limbo, working a day job at a bookstore while still trying to figure out what she wants to do.

It can be paralyzing, the idea that I should know exactly what I want to do and where I’m going, when I simply don’t. I hope I’m making the right choice, but I have no way to know for sure.

kapittel 3. / chapter 3.

When Julie runs through Oslo from her old boyfriend to what could be a new one, the whole city freezes in time. She leaves her boyfriend halfway through pouring coffee in order to spend the day with the new man, who is the only one in the city not frozen.

It’s a test run of a new relationship without any of the consequences. Could this work out?

Julie thinks yes, so she runs back to her apartment, time restarts, and, confident in her choice, she breaks up with her boyfriend and begins a relationship with the new man.

I wish I could have a trial run of my next major life decision. What if I had been able to test out a college or try out a career path for just one day, then go back and make my decision? Maybe if I spent one consequence-free day trying out life as a journalist, I would realize it wasn’t for me or I would know absolutely that it was. Either way, I could be confident I am choosing the right path.

Unfortunately for Julie, the second man isn’t right for her either. Even though she was able to test out their relationship on the frozen day, it still wasn’t the right choice, and they broke up.

I reconsidered my wish for a trial run of my journalism life, because even if I was able to freeze time and try it out, I still may not make the right choice. Maybe there is no “right choice,” just what feels right in the moment. And in this moment, journalism feels right.

kapittel 4. / chapter 4.

In Norway, the phrase, “the worst person in the world,” is a common expression, a self-deprecating comment they say for anything from a personal failure to a faux pas. It’s not about truly being the worst, but about feeling that way in the moment.

Julie feels like the worst person in the world, as she emotionally cheats on her boyfriend, leaves him for another man, and can’t seem to find her way in life.

I understand her feelings. It’s hard to think about the world as this huge thing with so many people who are worse than us. The world is personal, each of us is the center of our own world, and when we’re feeling down, it’s easy to believe that we’re simply the worst, especially when we’re struggling with self-doubt about our paths in life, as Julie was and as I am.

kapittel 5. / chapter 5.

Halfway through the movie, Julie celebrates her 30th birthday with her mother and grandmother. She works at a bookstore and has just moved in with her comic artist boyfriend. She feels pressure from the milestone age, and she compares where she is in her life with the women in her family who have come before her.

Graphic by Lianne Sung

At 30, Julie’s mom, Eva, had been divorced for two years. A single mom and accountant in a publishing house.

At 30, Julie’s grandmother had three children. She played Rebecca West in Rosmersholm at the National Theatre.

At 30, Julie’s great-grandmother, Astrid, was a widow, alone with four children.

I think about where my mother was at my age.

At 19, my mother was also in college and was changing her major, finding a different path. Julie felt the pressure of the past, of her mother’s past, bearing down on her like a ticking clock, but all I feel is relief. I had forgotten — my mother was in the same place I was; she must have felt the uncertainty I feel. Knowing that she had the opportunity to change her mind and it all worked out for her is a load off my shoulders, and I see my future open up.

kapittel 6. / chapter 6.

During the first part of The Worst Person in the World, Julie hops between majors and career paths without finding anything that she really wants to do. She tries photography last, but she’s distracted when she meets her future boyfriend and starts to structure her life around him, forgetting about photography for most of the movie.

Then in the epilogue, when she’s gone through these relationships and is on her own again, we see her working as a photographer on a film, showing that even through the distractions and turns in her journey and her own self-doubt, her instincts as to who she was were right.

What I learned from Julie is that you will find yourself in the end. Even if I lose my way, as Julie did, I will be able to find my way back. Seeing Julie overcome her struggles to find herself and the turns life takes made me more confident in my uncertainty of my own future. I can even embrace that uncertainty as a wonderful thing because I believe that I will find myself in the end if I trust my way.

I’m still not sure about my choice to pursue journalism, but I’ve realized that it’s far better than not making a choice at all. I don’t want to be suspended in indecision like Julie and let my life stand still. I want to jump full-force into journalism, and even if it doesn’t work out, even if I realize I chose it for the wrong reasons, then it will still be okay.

There’s not one path to follow that’s already laid out for me; I have to create the path. If I choose what feels right moment by moment and keep doing that, then I will form my own journey and hopefully end up where I want to be.

epilog. / epilogue.

I’m writing my news article for the Daily Texan. My deadline is in an hour, but my last interview for the story ended only a few minutes ago.

I listen to the recording, write down quotes I want to use, and find spaces in my article where the quotes can go. I have to hurry because in ten minutes I have another interview, this one with a researcher for my story next week. I review my questions in my head.

My phone lights up with an email notification, a response from a lawyer I’m interviewing for a story in my journalism class. He’s telling me he’s available to talk the following day.

I start the video call for my interview a minute early. For just a moment, I sit and I’m still, waiting for her to join. I think, I maybe love this. I think, yes, I could do this.

The struggle to find myself and what I’m meant to do is enough to make anyone feel like the worst person in the world. I know I will still have times of fear and uncertainty, as we all do.

But if we’re all the worst person in the world, then maybe no one is. ■

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