Joachim Trier

7.1 Reprise (2006)
7.1 Oslo August 31st (2011)
6.6 Louder Than Bombs (2015)
7.6 Thelma (2017)
6.9 The Worst Person in the World (2021)

Joachim Trier (Norway, 1974) debuted with Reprise (2006), a psychological drama that studies two different kinds of depression, but one the mirror image of the other. Two young friends, Erik and Phillip, mail their first manuscripts. The film shows what their life would be should they become successful writers. They would split, go through different life episodes, and then meet again by chance at a metro station, maybe while accidentally writing the same book. Instead only Phillip's book is accepted and published. Six months later, however, it is Phillip who is in trouble: Erik and other friends pick him up at a psychiatric hospital, where he just recovered from what appears to be a suicide attempt. They stop by the sea, where Phillip has fond memories. Erik now has a girlfriend, Lillian. At home Phillip realizes that his mother has destroyed all the pictures of his ex-girlfriend Kari, and we understand that his psychological troubles are related to the girl: the doctor told them to make sure that he is not reminded of Kari. But just a dark hair is enough to remind Phillip of their love story, like the time when he was hit by a car, luckily with no injuries. After that accident, however, Phillip's mind didn't seem to work as well as before. Nonetheless, Phillip meets Kari at a cafe and they start seeing each other again. Kari tells him that she was advised not to visit him at the hospital. Meanwhile, Erik's manuscript is accepted by a publisher, and Erik plans to dump his girlfriend Lillian, a mean action that reminds him of when his mother caught him watching porno pictures on a computer when he was still a teenager. The publisher wants Erik to change the title of the book but the publisher's assistant, Johanne, defends Erik. We learn that both Phillip and Erik were influenced by a reclusive writer, Sten Dahl, who won a Nobel Prize but then disappeared. Johanne joins Erik and his usual friends at the sea, but is quickly disgusted by their superficial jokes and gossip. Erik is worried when he learns that Phillip is again with Kari. Phillip tells Kari that he doesn't want to write anymore. Erik meets Sten Dahl at a party but is rudely interrupted by a boring friend, Mathis. Erik finds Phillip listening to loud television and not willing to talk. Phillip buys an air ticket to Paris for Kari: he wants to travel back where they originally fell in love. She accepts and Phillip forces her to re-live their first vacation there, day by day. He takes the pictures of her that remind him of what happened back then to the poin that she becomes uncomfortable. He also takes the habit of counting from ten to zero. Kari feels that Phillip does not love her anymore and they break up again. Erik book comes out and it's about madness. Erik keeps neglecting Lillian and one day Lillian shows up angry and dumps him. Phillip counts down from ten to zero while he rides a bicycle at high speed and closes his eyes. Phillip finally writes something and shows it to Erik, but Erik criticizes it. Phillip agrees and loses confidence. Erik, angry at himself, kicks a number of cars and one of the owners punches him in the face. He is later attacked by a dog in a park. The man who rescues him, the owner of the dog, is Sten Dahl in person, who admits that he read his book and liked it. Erik decides to leave town. Phillip is walking on the rails of the tram and counting from ten to zero. He takes the elevator and enters Kari's office, embarrassing her in front of her coworkers: first he tells her that he loves her and then he collapses on the floor when Kari replies angrily that she can't take this anymore. Erik visits Philip at the hospital. The film now shows up what would have happened to Erik had he left the country as he planned to. He would have written his second novel abroad and maybe would have met Phillip again at a wedding, learning from Phillip that their idol Sten Dahl killed himself. Phillip and Kari meet at a cafe. Phillip begins his countdown but this time Kari stops him and the film ends.

Oslo August 31st (2011), a story adapted from Pierre Drieu La Rochelle's novella "Le Feu Follet/ Will O' the Wisp" (1931), is a bleak existentialist drama that takes place in less than two days. The story focuses on the drug addict who can't find meaning in life but nobody in the film seems to be happy.

The camera shows an empty city and a home-made video. We hear the voiceovers of a man and a woman who remember their childhood. They have never seen each other after parting. A man wakes up next to a woman and walks out. The man walks along the freeway, then into the countryside, wandering into a wood until he reaches the shore of a lake. He fills his pockets with stones and picks up a heavy stone and walks into the water, obviously trying to kill himself. But then he can't carry it out and walks back to shore, coughing. Then he walks back to a building, which turns out to be a rehab clinic. Anders is one of the former drug addicts who is hospitalized there. He doesn't tell the doctor the truth.
The doctor authorizes him to take a trip to the city for a job interview. He visits his friend Thomas, who is now happily married with Rebekka and has two children. Thomas used to party with Anders when he was single. Anders tells Thomas that he met his old girlfriend Malin, and was disappointed. Thomas talks about Anders' parents, and Anders tells him that they had to sell the house to pay for his troubles. Anders tells him that he is on his way to a job interview and then has to meet his sister Nina. He dismisses the interview as just part of he rehab program. Anders and Thomas take a walk in the park and chat on a bench. Anders mentions Iselin, a girlfriend that Thomas really loved, but Anders even blames her for his addiction. Anders is desperate that he has nothing and tells Thomas that he has suicidal thoughts. Anders thinks that Thomas and his wife are happy, but Thomas tells him that marriage life is boring and he hasn't had sex with his wife in a long time. Anders leaves Thomas and walks towards his job interview, but then dials the number of Iselin. She doesn't pick up and he leaves a message to call him back. He walks into the interview with the magazine's owner who is looking for an assistant editor. The owner asks him why he stopped writing for so long and Anders, pressured, confesses that he was a drug addict. He ironically asks if he should put it in the resume. He loses his motivation and walks out. He walks to a cafe and listens to the casual conversations of the others in the cafe, mundane events of people who live in the real city, not in a rehab center. Then he walks to the restaurant where he is supposed to meet his sister Nina, but instead Nina's girlfriend Tove shows up. She has the home keys and and offers to take him to the family's home. Nina didn't come because she doesn't feel comfortable with him, and because he flaked out on her the day before. Anders takes the keys, insists on paying the bill with the little money he has, and leaves alone. He walks around the city but not to his family' home He remembers what his parents taught him. He walks to Mirjam's birthday party thinking that Thomas and wife would come, but they never show up. He runs into old friends. Mirjam looks bored. She has been dating her boyfriend Calle for nine years and they still have no children. She tells him that for a woman it's harder to age because she sees all the guys of her age dating much younger girls, and most of the old friends of her age group are married with children. She can still hang out only with a couple of those who remained single like her. She feels there is someting wrong with her. He kisses her on the mouth which makes her uncomfortable. He calls Iselin again and leaves a long message until he's cut out by the answering machine. He steals money from Mirjam's room and leaves. Anders visits his old drug dealer and buys heroin. He walks into a bar and meets a friend who is flirting with two female students. Anders chats with one of them, a medical student. He tells her he's just a loser. As they are walking out, he recognizes the man who stole Iselin from him, and tells him that he forgives him, But the man responds harshly that he despises him for treating Iselin like shit. Anders follows the friend and the girls to a dance club where they drink alcohol (which he is not supposed to drink). He makes out with the medical student. They walk to a swimming pool and realize that it is past midnight, therefore it is August 31 and the pool will be drained the following day. The friend and the two girls strip almost naked and jump in the pool, but Anders remains outside staring motionless at them. The medical student invites him in vain. At sunrise he walks to his family' home. Nobody is inside and the home is a mess because they already started to pack. He calls Iselin again, this time to tell her to forget the previous messages. He plays the piano, then he walks into a bedroom and takes the heroin that he bought and passes out.

Louder Than Bombs (2015) is a disappointing Hollywood-ian family melodrama.

Thelma (2017), a major departure in his career, is a supernatural thriller in the vein of Brian DePalma with Freudian overtones. The film is many films in one. The protagonist climbs a ladder of sins, from erotic shock to erotic shock, each time being both attracted and repulsed. The seizures begin when the protagonist eyes an attractive stranger, and seem to end when not only she accepts her attraction but even physically manufactures it with her supernatural powers. The film is drenched in religious symbolism, like the snake that enters her mouth when she walks into the lake, or the miracle of healing her mother, or the father who thinks that God wants him to kill his child. The story can be understood as a parable of parents who traumatized their child with their religious paranoia: the father (who never sinned) is the one who ends up burning in hell, while the daughter (whom he forced to repent for her sins) lives happily with her lover.
The sexual blossoming of the innocent child causes a cosmic conflagration, a veritable time travel in which the universe gets rearranged by her. We understand only at the end why the father wanted to kill his child. But even the father has missed the real Satanic importance of his daughter: she has become capable of performing miracles like Jesus and of creating reality, way beyond the ability to kill people (she heals her mother, she resurrects her lover, she dreams of her lover kissing her and the lover materializes and kisses her). By accepting her "sinning", she learns how to control her supernatural power to do not only evil but also good: she becomes a saint by accepting her sinning.
The camera zooms out at the beginning and at the end to give us a sense that "they" can be among us, looking like the other millions of ordinary people.

A father and his little daughter walk on an icy lake. The girl sees her reflection in the ice. The father carries a rifle. They are hunting a deer. He aims at the deer and the girl expects to hear the shot. Instead the father aims at the back of her head... but then he can't find the courage to pull the trigger.

Years later, the camera zooms from the sky into a busy square and eventually focuses on a girl. She walks into a classroom and attends a class. When she gets home, her mom calls her on her cell phone. Her parents live in a remote countryside home, and her mom is confined to a wheelchair. Thelma studies in a library. Anja sits next to her. A bird crashes into a window and Thelma has an epileptic seizure. That night at home Thelma dreams of a snake. The following day Anja approaches her at the swimming pool. Thelma has dinner with her parents. Her father gets upset when she makes fun of someone who believes in the biblical account of the creation. She apologizes. She tells him that she is lonely. One night she joins the other students at a bar. She tells them that she doesn't drink alcohol for religious reasons. She argues with a boy who makes fun of her religion. She dances with Anja till late and misses her father's daily phone call. Then she can't fall asleep. She keeps thinking of Anja and then suddenly she senses that Anja is downstairs: she really is. Thelma walks downstairs and her another seizure in front of Anja. Anja walks her back to the apartment and they sleep in Thelma's bed. The following morning Anja admits that she doesn't know how she came to Thelma's apartment, but she was drunk and doesn't remember much of the evening. They become best friends. Anja has a father who lives abroad and has lots of children from different marriages. Anja begins to corrupt Thelma: alcohol, cigarettes, blasphemous talk... Anja's mom invites Thelma to a ballet performance. During the performance Anja starts touching Thelma's leg. Thelma is about to get another seizure and walks out. Anja follows her and kisses her on the mouth. Thelma reciprocates but then runs away. At home she prays to be forgiven for the sin. When her father calls, she confesses that she drank alcohol. When she meets Anja again, Anja is upset that Thelma never returned her calls. Thelma makes Anja jealous of a boy. Then the boy pretends to be smoking weeds and offers the cigarette to Thelma, who smokes and has an erotic nightmare in which a snake enters her mouth. When she wakes up, they tell her that it was just a joke: the cigarette only contained tobacco. Thelma vomits and leaves them. The doctors administer a brain scan. The doctors also find out that her medical record documents a seizure when she was a child, but she doesn't remember.

A flashback shows what happened. Her mother was feeding Thelma's baby brother. Thelma was annoyed by his crying and focused her mind on him until he was catapulted under a couch.

Back to the hospital, the doctors try to induce a seizure and measure the brain waves. During the seizure, Thelma mentally enters Anja's apartment and turns on the music. When Anja enters the apartment physically, she is puzzled to find the music playing. Then a force pulls Anja towards the window and Anja... disappears in an explosion. The doctors determine that Thelma is not having epileptic seizures. They are of a different kind, probably caused by a trauma or stress. The doctors also reveal to Thelma that her granma is alive and lives in a mental asylum: Thelma was told that granma died years earlier. Thelma takes the train and visits granma, who is unconscious. The nurse implies that her granma's condition was worsened by powerful drugs administered by her father. The nurse tells her why granma is considered mad: her granma is convinced that she has the mental power to make things happen and in particular that she made her husband (Thelma's granpa) disappear. In fact, his body was never found.

After another seizure in the swimming pool that almost causes her to drown, Thelma enters Anja's apartment and finds Anja's hair stuck in the window. Thelma calls her mom and tells her that she feels she has made Anja disappear. She moves in with the parents and her father begins administering a powerful drug and locking her in a room. They tell her that they know what happened to her. They make her pray to God.

Another flashback shows what she did as a child: she made the baby disappear. Then she indicated to her father where the baby was: buried under the ice of the lake. The mother tried to jump from a bridge and was left a cripple in a wheelchair.

She tells her father that she loved Anja. While she is sedated, the parents discuss what to do. Her mother wants her father to kill her to avoid that she kills again. Thelma tells her father that she knows about granma and guesses that her father is doing to her what he did to granma: sedate her to make her mind powerless. While she is asleep, her father takes the boat. Her mind causes him to catch fire and burn alive. She wakes up knowing exactly what happened. She walks into the lake and swims in vain. She dreams of Anja at the pool and of kissing her. She doesn't see that her phone is receiving a call from Anja, a sign that Anja is alive (the camera zooms into a drawer to show the incoming call). Thelma walks calmly into the house, where her mother is panicking that her husband has disappeared. Thelma touches her mother and then walks out: her mother starts walking.

Back to school, she dreams of Anja kissing her and, sure enough, Anja appears and kisses her. They walk away happy. The camera zooms out showing a lot of people walking in the busy square.

Verdens Verste Menneske/ The Worst Person in the World (2021) is a psychological portrait that paradoxically doesn't get too deep into the psychology of the protagonist. The film has elements of a Bergman-ian domestic and existential tragedy, but it is also a comedy. The happy ending is that the protagonist ends up with no ties to anyone. The problem is that the film is slow and overlong, and sometimes verbose, and it is not helped by a tedious soundtrack of pop songs.

The film is in 12 chapters, a prologue and an epilogue. The prologue introduces us to Julie, a top medical student who has an existential crisis and switches first to and psychology then to photography. She enters a new circle of friends and meets a comic book artist, Aksel, who quickly becomes her new boyfriend. He is worried about their age difference because he's much older, past 40, and he doesn't want to fall in love with her, which would hurt both. Nonetheless, they fall in love and she moves in with him and launches a new career as a writer. The chapters proper begin with a visit to Aksel's parents, who throw a little party attended by families of friends. They have an argument because Aksel envies the friends with children and Julie is not ready for children. They dance with the friends and family, and before going to sleep they hear a couple arguing in the other bedroom. The second chapter begins with a reception for Aksel's new comic book, attended by many people. Julie gets bored and leave early. On the way home she runs into a party and just walks in. It's a wedding party and nobody pays attention to her. She finds a young man of her age who is sitting aloof on a couch and strikes a conversation. She confesses she crashed the party uninvited and they become good friends. But they also state openly that they don't want to cheat on their significant others. A little drunk, they openly discuss sex, she even follows him to see him pee in a urinal and then lets him watch while she pees on the toilet. When they finally part in the morning, they simply exchange their names. His name is Eivind. In the third chapter Julie writes a short story about a feminist who enjoyed performing oral sex on a man. Aksel reads it and loves it The voiceover informs us that her piece was published on social media and receives quite a few views. In the fourth chapter Julie and Aksel visit her mother. It's Julie's 30th birthday. Her father called that he injured his back and cannot attend. The voiceover informs us that Julie's mother has been divorced for two years. The voiceover also informs us of what happened to Julie's female ancestors on their 30th birthdays. Julie and Aksel then visit her father, who is remarried and has a teenage daughter. The teenager mentions that the father was at an event when he pretended to be injured. Also he didn't read her article pretending that he never received the email. And he finds excuses not to visit her in the city. In the fourth chapter Julie is working in a big bookstore when Eivind walks in with his girlfriend Sunniva. They exchange a smile but don't say anything in front of Sunniva, but then he walks back in alone and tells her that he's been thinking of her a lot and tells her where he works. One night Aksel and Julie have dinner with his brother and her wife. Aksel talks about the movie that is being made of his comic book and Julie gets bored listening to his intellectual arguments. The following morning she leaves the house and start running in the streets where nobody is moving. People start moving again only when she walks into the cafe' where Eivind works. They kiss and spend a romantic day together. She then runs back through streets where, again, nobody is moving, and reenters Aksel's house... but it was just a daydream. The voiceover tells us that Julie explained to Aksel wht she was leaving him. Aksel is surprised and devastated. Aksel makes it worse by trying to psychoanalyze her. They make love one more time but she still leaves. The sixth chapter shows Eivind and his girlfriend Sunniva hiking and pitching a tent in the middle of nowhere. Sunniva finds out through a genetic test that she has Tibetan blood and gets into drugs and exotic rituals. She becomes a climate activist and yoga practitioner. Eivind gets fed up with her strict principles and one day simply leaves her. In chapter seven Eivind runs to Julie and they have sex and move in together. In chapter eight a friend of Eivind, Adil, while walking around their house, finds a box full of "magic mushrooms". Curious, Julie immediately tries them. Her hallucination culminates in a nightmare of her being pregnant, giving birth, and her baby being swallowed by the cat of Aksel's comic book, Bobcat. The ninth chapter takes place during the Christmas holidays. While she is in a gym, Julie sees Aksel interviewed on television about his comic book character Bobcat. The interviewer attacks Aksel's provocative stories accusing him of being a sexist, and Aksel loses his temper. In the tenth chapter Aksel's brother walks into the bookstore where Julie works. He reveals that Aksel has incurable cancer. At home Eivind finds Julie's old article and likes it, but he makes the mistake of psychoanalyzing her, and she reacts angrily. Chapter 11 begins with Julie taking a pregnancy test and realizing that she is pregnant of Eivind's child. She doesn't say anything to Eivind. Instead she visits Aksel at the hospital, who is, needless to say, nostalgic about the past, and admits that he is afraid of death. She reveals that she is pregnant but it was an accident. He congratulates her and encourages her to keep the baby, but can sense that she's not happy to become a mother. Back home she finally tells Eivind that she's pregnant, but also that she needs time to figure out whether she wants to keep the child. Chapter 12 begins with Julie escorting Aksel to the building where he grew up and taking pictures of him. Later Aksel's brother leaves her a phone message that Aksel's condition has suddenly worsened and he is dying. She walks around the city crying. Then she takes a shower and realizes that she's bleeding: she loses the baby. And then she smiles. The epilogue opens cryptically with a woman who looks shocked: she's an actress on the set of a movie. Julie is in charge of taking pictures of the actress. While she's packing to leave the studio, she sees Eivind outside waiting for the actress and he is carrying their baby. At home she stares at the pictures that she took, studying what is now Eivind's wife.