How “The Worst Person in the World” Nails Gen-X Ennui

Everything vanishes. It has already vanished.

Will Leitch

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At the end of Joachim Trier’s incredible film The Worst Person in the World, the character Aksel, played by Anders Danielsen Lie, reflects back on his life. Aksel, even though he is only in his 40s, is dying, of cancer. He tells his Julie, his much-younger ex-girlfriend, about how much of his life, all the things he cared about, has already faded — how pointless so much of it was.

I’d given up long before I got sick. Really. I just watch my favorite old movies over and over. Lynch, “The Godfather Part II”… How many times can you watch “Dog Day Afternoon”? Sometimes I listen to music I haven’t heard before. But it’s old as well. Music I didn’t know about, but from when I grew up. It felt as though I’d already given up. I grew up in an age without Internet and mobile phones. I sound like an old fart. But I think about it a lot.

The world that I knew has disappeared. For me it was all about going to stores. Record stores. I’d take the tram to Voices in Grünerløkka. Leaf through used comics at Pretty Price. I can close my eyes and see the aisles at Video Nova in Majorstua. I grew up in a time when culture was passed along through objects. They were interesting, because we could live among them. We could pick them up. Hold them in our hands. Compare them. Like books. That’s all I have. I spent my life doing that. Collecting all that stuff, comics, books. And I just continued, even when it stopped giving me the powerful emotions I felt in my early 20s. I continued anyway. And now it’s all I have left. Knowledge and memories of stupid, futile things nobody cares about.

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a more powerful distillation of what it feels like to be a member of Generation X. Chuck Klosterman’s new book The Nineties is all about this idea. The book is not nostalgic — it’s aggressively anti-nostalgia — but it is very clear-eyed about the idea that almost everything that happened in the ’90s has been forgotten, ignored or actively eviscerated. Music stores are gone. Video stores are gone. Physical media is mostly gone. The leaders of the time have been reconsidered and have faced reckonings; the major issues of the time are now irrelevant; nobody listens to rock music anymore.

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Will Leitch

Author of six books, including “How Lucky” and "The Time Has Come." NYMag/MLB.. Founder, Deadspin. https://williamfleitch.substack.com