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Sick of Myself

  • Film
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
A woman leans over a table and using one finger pulls a pill into her mouth.
Photograph: MIFF

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

A whip-smart black comedy out of Norway that shines a damning light on society's self-obsession

Sick of Myself, a Norwegian film by Kristoffer Borgli, opens on bored cafe waitress Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) and her conceptual artist boyfriend Thomas (Eirik Sæther) sitting in a fancy restaurant, supposedly there to celebrate her birthday. Thomas orders an eye-wateringly expensive bottle of wine; he is casual, yet just performatively embarrassed enough in his requests for the waiter to keep the price quiet, that he almost gets away with his plan to steal the wine in a dramatic runner – if only his girlfriend Signe didn't get so entranced with the public attention of a birthday cake arriving, that she ends up spoiling the plan.

Signe agrees to humour Thomas' kleptomaniac ways, sticking to the original plan post-cake, but only if he allows her to claim that she was the one who stole the wine – for the chance to centre herself as the hero of the story at a house party later on, of course.

Signe and Thomas are that couple; always competitive, eye-rollingly sucking the life out of every party conversation with their self-aggrandising personal anecdotes about their mostly-average life. That is, until Thomas achieves minor fame with his sculptures made from stolen designer sofas. Signe is furious and intensely jealous.

A dog attack outside her cafe sparks a sick urge; Signe sees in this bleeding woman what she has been seeking all along – sympathy, attention, importance. But she has tried it all before, including a disappointing attempt at faking an allergic reaction to nuts in order to steal away the attention at her boyfriend's celebratory dinner, which ends in a walk of shame soured by unachieved potential.

Looking for a solution that can't be tracked back to her own hand, Signe spots a story in the news about several young women struck down with horrific skin scarring after taking black market Russian anxiety pills. Her narcissism is so potent, that she orders the pills for herself, consuming them in such huge quantities so as to render herself both physically scarred and brutally unwell.

Finally, Signe gets what she's been seeking all along – a gloriously verified victim status, one that even her increasingly weary friends can't question, and one that propels her to modest levels of local fame. However, as her sickness intensifies, Signe is left choosing between her life, and a crippling admission of guilt that could take it all away.

Sick of Myself is a beautifully whip-smart black comedy that shines a damning light on society's intensifying self-obsessions. This, Borgli's second feature film following 2017's Drib – the inside story of an energy drink marketing ploy gone wrong – is another pointed look at modern fame, scam culture, and the self-destructive contemporary fixation with going viral.

Speaking recently in Cannes, Borgli highlighted society's newfound fascination with performative victimhood and how it can be weaponised to achieve fame, as well as his love of uncomfortable and cringe-worthy moments – and Sick of Myself is full of them. As Signe's psychopathy and narcissism work hand in hand, we slowly descend into the darkest recesses of her mind, a bumpy ride into manic, deluded self-obsession spiked with black laugh-out-loud humour.

In fact, Borgli so magnificently depicts her declining mania, it's simultaneously disorienting and fascinating. What, in the beginning, are Signe's clearly demarkated pantomime-ish fantasies slowly morphs into an indescernible, often repeated, series of imagined and real events that can never truly be distinguished as one or the other.

Thorp is brilliant as the fame-hungry Signe – so thoroughly unlikable, and yet, it becomes hard to judge her too harshly over the course of the film. She clearly has so many overlapping mental health issues, that they unforgivingly converge in order to breed her own self-destruction. Even in her darkest hour, Signe embarks upon one final ditch effort to gain sympathy from her thinning and unenthusiastic audience, but by now it's hard to discern between reality and Signe's warped fantasies. You do pity her, by the end – even if her friends, who have now long-abandoned her, don't. 

The ending is strange, jarringly serene, and without a concrete sense of finality, that it makes you wonder if you're still stuck in Signe's dream state. But this very notion – that, at various moments, you question your own judgement of reality – is entirely the point. After all, in the world of social media and fame culture, is anything ever truly real?

Sick of Myself is, for all the dark themes and unsettling imagery, deeply watchable – a perfectly executed black comedy accompanied by humorously viscious counter-culture commentary that cannot be overlooked. That it is both horrifying and entrancing, funny and sickening all at once, perfectly punctures the victimhood-for-likes narrative so often depicted in modern culture. 

Written by
Bianca O'Neill
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