Presented at Cannes 2022, the film by newcomer Kristoffer Borgli (who then directed Dream Scenario with Nicolas Cage) is a great and sharp indictment against one of the evils of our times. The review of Sick of Myself by Federico Gironi.
What you mean, Sick of Myselfthe film tells us this straight away, in one of the very first sentences.
Signe and Thomas are in an elegant restaurant in Oslo, they have ordered a very expensive bottle of wine and are about to make a fuss, as they say in Rome, by taking it away. He tells her to go out with the excuse that he received a phone call. She replies that no, she can’t, everyone is watching her. “But when you’re a narcissist, no one will bother you”, is Thomas’s response (look who’s talking, one might also say, looking at the rest of the film, but that’s not the point).
Sick of Myself is about narcissism. That narcissism made up of the desire for attention, and fame, and image, which has been one of the great evils of contemporary society for some decades now, and since social media came into being we haven’t even talked about it.
Narcissism is a disease, and so here is newcomer Kristoffer Borgli (who won a well-deserved Amanda Award “the Norwegian Oscar” for the screenplay, but who shoots and frames and edits with an elegant and intelligent eye, and lays out very well her screen script) literally presents her as such.
Signe’s anxiety – which is worse than Thomas, but only up to a certain point: but, once again, it doesn’t matter – her desire to be the center of attention and conversations and not just the spare tire of the fellow artist who exhibits in the cool galleries of the Norwegian capital, her desire to excel as a couple, with friends, in the world is such that it pushes her to do crazy and absurd things. Already of a character inclined to rewrite the things that happen based on his subjectivity and her narcissism, faced with Thomas’s success and after a revealing accident Signe understands that, to get noticed, pretending to be ill is the key to everything. She begins by boasting of a non-existent allergy during a dinner, and then takes a drastic and reckless step: secretly taking massive doses of a Russian drug withdrawn from the market due to the very serious side effects that she causes on people’s skin.
And so, Signe succeeds in her aim, that of being the center of everyone’s attention. Or maybe not. In any case, at what cost.
There are observers who didn’t appreciate it Sick of Myself for being so clear, direct and brazen in what he wants to tell. Too much, they say.
I don’t agree at all. Borgli’s is a frontal attack, without uncertainties, brought so clearly out of conviction on the one hand and to adapt to times in which nuances and a sense of tone are no longer common heritage.
His is a film that is not the usual comedy that sweetens everything but a satire that is capable of making you laugh a lot, but also of disturbing, and also of leading the viewer – between one turn of the story and another – to an uncomfortable identification with two truly ugly, unpleasant, unbearable characters. Signe’s (and Thomas’s, of course) evils, although elevated to a pathological and self-destructive dimension, are those that in a small way all of us, in some way, carry with us: envy, the desire to be noticed, to assert ourselves in a world dominated by superficiality and image. The evils of the ego.
Without wanting to blaspheme any cinematic deity, the surreal but also very realistic acidity and wickedness of this film reminded me of Marco Ferreri and his desire to provoke, to know how to play with the registers of comedy, the grotesque and the dramatic, to tell extreme stories and characters, making them resonate very strongly in our daily, personal and collective experience.
If Thomas is clearly and more subtly hateful, he is also a more one-dimensional character, because Borgli relatively cares. He only uses it as a reagent to make the character move and act Signe (her interpreter, Kristine Kujath Thorp is excellent): a character who makes us laugh, outrages us, horrifies us, but who in some perverse way is even capable of arousing some perverse form of pity.
It’s not just pure narcissism, the megalomania of wanting to be the most admired person in the room, the one everyone listens to and everyone watches. Nor about taking photos, proud of her face and her disfigured body, to post online to receive the “oh poor” on the one hand and the “you’re still beautiful” on the other, which always come in times of widespread inclusiveness (And inclusiveness is another, secondary, target of Sick of Myself).
It’s about that self-destructive process that somehow affects us. Of that thirst for recognition that leads Signe to ask annoyed and astonished “but aren’t you admired?” to her friend to whom she exposed her torments and her consequent successes, and who evidently can’t stand all that egomania anymore.
Then of course, Borgli is also resolved and lucid enough to put Signe in the corner, at the end of the film, when in the final confrontation/confession with a friend, the latter reproaches her without hesitation for how perverse her continuing to present herself as a victim is, and the self-indulgence she has towards herself. These too are evils of our times: the victim paradigm, exasperated justificationism, the psychological dissolution of personal responsibility.
But all this doesn’t prevent a very final whereif the moral condemnation is clear, so is human compassion: which somehow must never be missing.