Two days ago Tatiana and I saw Joachim Trier‘s The Worst Person in The World (Neon). We were both deeply impressed and moved by this acclaimed Norwegian relationship drama, which is sure to be among the top contenders for Best Int’l Feature Oscar. Don’t forget that the lead performance by Renate Reinsve won the Best Actress trophy at the close of last July’s Cannes Film Festival.
The film stirred something strong and extra in Tatiana, and so she decided to bang out some thoughts. Note: She refers to her ex-husband Alexey in the first section. Here’s the essay:
I was very affected by The Worst Person in The World for an unsurprising reason. In some ways the lead character, Julie (Renate Reinsve), reminded me of myself when I was in my 20s.
1. Maternal instinct
Julie: Almost 30 but she doesn’t want children, confessing to her boyfriend Aksel that she has no maternal instinct.
Me: I had friends that at the age of 17 or 18 years old who were obsessed with having babies and their own families. It took me a long time for the maternal instinct to manifest within.
I got pregnant at 24, and I know the exact date and place — 10.28.98 in the heart of Nizhny Novgorod, right across from the Linguistic University, where my son is studying right now. I was pregnant but at the same time wondering why I wasn’t feeling the emotions that I thought future mothers should have. I told myself that these urges would gradually come to me.
Like Julie, I was not ready to be a mother. I was actually afraid of being a bad mother in life. I compared myself with my mom who sacrificed a lot because of us. [Tatiana has an older sister and a brother.] What made me happy with my pregnancy was that Alexey, my ex-husband, would be an excellent father. He had this inside. I was telling myself: well, I will not be an excellent mom, but Alexey will be a great dad. And he has excellent genes. And is very smart.
Women choose fathers for our children. On a subconscious level. The final decision is always on us.
Gleb was born on 7.28.99. I was full of joy, of course, but on some level I couldn’t quite accept that the baby was my son and I was his mother. The night Gleb was born, my one-year-older sister Svetlana came to stay and help with the baby for three months. She had a four year old son and knew all about baby care. When Gleb was one month old, we hired an amazing nanny whose name was also Tatiana. Plus we had a cleaning person.
Every morning I left at 8:15 am for my classes at the university, and then returned home around 3-4 pm. I was a very lucky mom, because Gleb was the sweetest baby in the world. He fell asleep around 9 or 10 pm and usually slept until 7 am. I don’t remember sleepless exhausting nights. And as I mentioned, I didn’t have to do all the routine work around the house.
The maternal instinct finally happened when Gleb was around one year old. And that was exactly the feeling I was waiting for.
2. Relations, Sex and Real Love
Julie: Being in a serious relations with Aksel, one night Julie crashes a party, meets a barista guy (Eivind), experiences a strong sexual and emotional attraction. Later she confesses to Aksel that she wants to quit their relationship, explaining that he dominates her in a certain way and she doesn’t feel happy. She leaves him for a new page of her life. With Eivind.
She says that she feels herself at peace with Eivind. Later, though, we can feel that they are not really a spiritual or intellectual match. Julia complains that Eivind will be “happy with working as a coffee barista when he hits his 50s, and never reading books”, and that Julie “wants more”. It’s obvious that she misses intelligent conversations with Aksel. When the physical passion fades away, many things in a partner become obvious. Passion always blocks our perception.
Me: I never wanted to be married. I preferred complete freedom. Because marriage was a huge responsibility in my imagination and I wanted to do so much in my life. Mostly traveling and discovering the world.
When I was 18, I dated a guy named Leonid, who was very serious about our relations. He proposed to me, met with my parents and grandparents, officially asking for my hand according to the old tradition. To please my family, I said “yes”, although I was not sure. What happened next was a realization that I didn’t want the kind of life that would happen with Leo. The sex was great, the emotional and intellectual connection was great, but intuition kept whispering to me that it was not my life…it should be something different, brighter, stronger, crazier and much more adventurous. I wanted MORE.
And then I met Alexey, with whom love happened from the first sight. He said that as soon as he saw me and my smile, he completely lost his mind. It was a funny story of how we met. I had an interview at his office and there was a down staircase. I lost my balance near the top and literally flew down the next nine or ten steps. He heard the terrible noise and approached the door, where he saw me and helped me to get up. He laughed said that I dropped from heaven right to his feet.
Alexey charmed me immediately with his nice voice, excellent manners and very smart eyes (he has a bachelor’s degree in radio physics and had worked at a research institute until he founded his own business). After that day we couldn’t live without each other.
Soon Gleb was born, but I was not officially married to Alexey. I did not want that. I was absolutely okay with my status. I totally trusted Alexey. It was a moment, when I wanted to do it officially entirely for pleasing my Mom, who was very anxious about my unmarried status. Very old school.
Five years later I was 29, and everything seemed to be perfect in my life. One day I happened to be at the office, doing something on the table with my back to the entrance door. Suddenly I heard the male voice behind me…very pleasant and sexual. It seemed to me that at that moment I froze and became numb. I didn’t see his face, but I knew it was him. I slowly turned around in order to identify the source of that incredibly pleasant voice. Our eyes met, electricity passed through my whole body, and I lost my mind.
It was Roman, a tall handsome guy, a Kevin Costner type, five years younger than me.
We moved in together. That was an incredible fire that I never experienced in my life. And I knew back then that I would never experience the same for the rest of my life. Without many details, I was totally out of my freaking mind. I was always slender, but I lost 15 pounds. The level of happiness was so high, that I completely lost my appetite. I always lose weight when I am in love. He loved and cared about Gleb. He introduced me to his family and proposed to me.
What happened next was almost exactly what happened in The Worst Person in the World. I missed Alexey, his brain and our intelligent conversations. Roman just was not smart enough for me. One night I was returning home (the apartment I shared with Roman) and I saw a yellow cab and Alexey coming out of it. He saw me, hugged me, saying he couldn’t live without me, wanted me to be his wife and never separate.
One month later I officially became Alexey’s wife. Gleb was seven years old.