Julie was most of us. Or perhaps, we were all a Julie once. But most ridiculously for me, Julie is me.
It might be long overdue, but my boyfriend and I finally watched the movie the other night. After five minutes of processing the prologue that somehow felt a little too embarrassingly familiar, he broke the silence by saying, “Why do I have a feeling that this woman is essentially you?”
And he was right. Julie is me – a more reckless version of me, the kind of person I would become if I deliberately let my truest colours shine unabashedly and allow my impulses to redirect my life to all territories I was always too afraid to venture into, and a more satisfied one, perhaps.
From quitting a presumably prestigious program because it did not resonate with what poked her curiosity, deciding that she’s now attracted to how human’s minds responded to all sorts of stimuli, only to end up choosing photography and writing over a well-respected and promising field, also getting scared of not being able to navigate her own steering wheel in her own life that she cut off the stability that felt like gluing her foot to the brake pedal – I could go on and list every single act she did in the movie but the underline was that, I found myself (and a lot of us) in her.
It just so happens that my upbringing of mostly values and principles shared in eastern cultures anchors me and grounds me to never dare myself enough to make split-second decisions as bold as hers. I was taught to always have a degree of self-control to constantly make logical and conscious decisions to suppress my itches and avoid chasing something on a whim, for better or for worse.
Nonetheless, I guess everyone, especially my generation, shares a piece of Julie within them. I just happen to identify by heart with every single decision and action that she made, regardless of how presumptuous, unsafe, or unwise it might seem.
Even though I never experienced them firsthand because my culture teaches me that stability, safety, and security are what you should aim for (even if deep down, you constantly need sparks and excitement from something fresh, strange, and unfamiliar to fuel you), I could really see that in an alternate life where I was still me, yet I was not raised with certain principles that I now feel a degree of betrayal to my “identity” if I don’t follow them, I most likely would’ve copied her exact paths. Then, seeing the movie would probably be pointless because it would feel as if the most vulnerable parts of my life were being stripped out, naked for millions to see, except that I looked a lot prettier in it, but I gained nothing new from it because it’s just a complete reflection of my reality. Or it would make the most perfect sense, because then I would understand that this whole self-discovery journey is just a common thread that is shared by us, especially my generation of twenty-somethings, as a whole.
But Julie went through all that, so I no longer have to. And now that I saw how it might turn out, I may not even want to anymore.
ii. Julie & Aksel
We know that compatibility is not everything in a relationship. Relationships are, in a way, sort of like an institution, and thus it won’t get anywhere without a shared vision.
Both Julie and Aksel fell for each other for who they were and what they saw in each other – and isn’t love supposed to be that simple? Sure, love might be, but relationships are not. You can’t sail a ship together without sharing a common destination, and it’s none of their fault that Aksel, given his age and degree of maturity, already figured out a vision of life that he wanted, and he longed for someone who could also accommodate that for him. Meanwhile Julie, being all millennial and free-spirited, had not figured what was it exactly that she was looking for, even though she knew exactly what she might not want, which was being a spectator in her own life.
For Julie, love did not suffice. And certainly neither did stability nor a sense of security. Whatever it was that she sought, a safety net as sturdy as Aksel apparently was not a part of a life she would want to build for herself.
A man you used to (or still?) love was in his hospital gown, the two of you laid on a mattress that might as well be his deathbed not long from then on. You told him that oftentimes, you still pretended that the two of you shared a conversation in your mind because it’s just unnatural how much the two of you connected, and he echoed everything that you said. As he was enduring the pain from his incurable pancreatic cancer, he also told you that you had always been the love of his life.
Yet none of it was enough to make you come back – because whatever it was that you coveted, it was always somewhere outside that bubble of comfort, and you felt that you always had to be on the run to chase for it.
Love might’ve sufficed had Julie did not have a deep-seated yearning for a constant act of self-actualization. Or had she not felt she owed herself a lot of things that a domesticated life with a genuinely good man and a child does not translate well into her ideal kind of life. But she was engineered and adamant to have a fulfilling life that was far from dull, at the expense of quitting the love that was promised to comfort her. Aksel, on the other hand, equally deserved a life where his ideal picture of a “real” family was accepted by his partner who would be willing to share that with him, although sadly it just never happened.
iii. Julie & Eivind
The second chapter entitled “Cheating” was perhaps one of my favourites because of how these two interacted in what seemed to be nothing more than borrowed times and stolen chances, treading the water and experimenting with the thresholds of what they were allowed to do to still respect their partners and each other’s partners.
Neither Julie nor Eivind was looking for one another when they found each other. Julie just happened to stumble upon him after having an existential crisis walk along the city’s sidewalk, all teary-eyed from things that only herself would understand, but interestingly us millennials could perhaps relate to as well to some extent. The significance of their meeting was perhaps no more than the fact that it was sheer serendipity.
Eivind was new, fresh, and manageable – a huge win for Julie for she gained both the excitement from following her itching impulses and a chance to build a life where she could take a lead and did not have to feel as if she were under someone’s lurking shadow. But it’s crystal clear from the very beginning that the mere things that made Eivind stand out were only those three, and nothing else. We never saw both of them share a conversation, or moments, where we were made to believe that these two were meant to fit each other’s pieces of a puzzle or connect in any way. Particularly after Eivind read a piece of Julie’s writings, where his comments were definitely not as articulated or genuine as Aksel would’ve conveyed, because it was only Aksel who could understand Julie the most.
The last part was perhaps the final moment Julie realized that no matter how exciting, Eivind did not have the depth and range she needed in a “soulmate,” and that, along with the miscarriage of an unwanted pregnancy, were the defining moments that once again persuaded her to start her pursuit of love over again. At the same time, I was glad to see Eivind with the mother of his baby at the end, presumably having figured out that he had never wanted to rule out the possibility of having a child all this time – it was just that he had been shadowed by two domineering women, first Sunniva and then Julie, who never wanted one that he thought the idea rubbed off on him too.
iv. Final Thoughts
Nobody was truly “the worst person in the world” in the movie. After all, the title was simply inspired by a Norwegian saying which director Joachim Trier explains as, “It’s when you feel like you’re a personal failure, like, ‘Oh, I’m the worst person in the world.’ It’s a self-deprecating statement, in a way.”
Nobody was the worst – they were all just humans who happened to meet at an intersection, walked together for a little while, and at some point figured that they had always wanted to take a different passage and that the road they were already on no longer served them. Everyone was constantly in their own pursuits of a fulfilling and rewarding life that fits their own terms. While it might be a shame that their aspirations clashed even when the feelings and moments were right, those are all just a part of life.
Julie was as confused as most of us were, but that did not stop her from exploring all the different risks of all the fleeting moments and opportunities that felt temporarily right for her. Aksel’s goal of a family with a kid was even far from unrealistic; after all, he just wanted something that was very natural and humane for us to yearn for. It’s just unfortunate that the love of his life did not want the same thing – or at least not yet, not in his time. Eivind might have the least ambitions out of the three characters with the longest air time, but it is obviously allowed and clearly not harmful to prefer such aspiration if that suits him.
Life would always get complicated whenever lives with contrasting purposes commingle, and disputes may heighten as we try to navigate not only each of their own’s paths but also our path as a single entity together. But it’s unavoidable.
Like Julie at the end of the movie, the journey may still be unfinished and the rest of the process would probably last a lifetime. The least we could do is to accept that there are far too many items at play that we may need to recalibrate our most ideal definition of “being fulfilled and happy” at some point if we want our relationships with certain things, or people, to work; or accept the truth that the less flexibility and error we allow in our definition, the harder, and perhaps a bit lonelier, the journey will get. But both are just preferences – and not even binary options of right versus wrong.
Eventually, we embrace the choice we echo the most, crossing our fingers that it would lead us to where we’re supposed to be, one right person and one right thing at a right time.