The Worst Person in the World, helmed by Norwegian director Joachim Trier, was never released in theaters in China and comes from a completely different cultural setting. Even so, the Cannes award-winning and Oscar-nominated film has won the hearts of Chinese youth and received critical acclaim from the country’s cinephiles.
And it’s not just the film’s title that has grabbed attention. Its central themes, too, have triggered online discussions in China.
Marked by exquisite cinematography and divided into 12 chapters, The Worst Person in the World follows tricenarian Julie (played by Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve), who is on a quest for love and meaning in contemporary Oslo.
Julie stumbles through life, exploring different professional avenues and romantic flings, all the while indecisive about her emotional wants and needs.
The audience sees the freewheeling protagonist working in a bookstore while dreaming of becoming a photographer. This comes after already ditching medicine and psychology.
Julie makes important life choices purely based on intuition. Her indecisiveness and impulsiveness would traditionally be considered reckless in Asian society, which values efficiency and maturity above all.
The 30-year-old also finds herself living in the shadow of her revered cartoonist boyfriend, Aksel, who is in his 40s, while reluctantly facing the looming subject of maternity.
Stuck in limbo, she describes “feeling like a spectator in my own life” and “being behind the schedule of my peers,” but stays true to herself by continuing to prioritize new experiences despite society’s punitive standards.
A scene from The Worst Person in the World. Image via Douban
The film’s general air of restlessness and central theme of self-discovery have hit home among younger generations of Chinese viewers.
After all, Chinese Millennials and Zoomers (Gen Z) are slower to start families and build wealth than earlier generations. In fact, youth worldwide are coming of age amidst confusing times that encompass globalization and the post-pandemic recession.
The top comment on Douban, akin to IMDb in China, reads: “I feel like the worst person in the world. I’ve never seen anything through, and I can’t maintain a romantic relationship for very long. I dare to offend others by insisting on my standards. I long for freedom most of the time.”
In New Weekly, a Chinese movie critic shared, “Reaching the age of 30, we will fall into the trap of social expectations. The urgency to get married, have kids, and settle down becomes the elephant in the room.”
In a similar vein, a writer for Beijing News voiced, “Being the worst person in the world might be the most relieving thing. It depicts a global, generational phenomenon where women learn to know that solitude is not equal to misery.”
While some Chinese commenters have criticized the prose on individuality and extreme feminism, others exhibit undisguised envy for the Nordic system’s social tolerance.
“It is a first-world problem film,” says Shirley, a freelance documentary filmmaker living in Shanghai. “The courage of changing career paths and partners solely based on one’s will stems from a society with social welfare, safety nets, gender equality, and less family pressure.”
In the end, being one’s self, it seems, is as much a social issue as it is a personal one.
Cover image via IMDb
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