Sick of Myself, aka Sik Pike, the sophomore effort from Norwegian writer-director Kristoffer Borgli, takes a sledgehammer to the so-called attention economy. Rather than dealing with an obsessively online content creator, however, Borgli features a young woman who’s so desperate to be the center of attention that she quite literally makes herself sick (hence that clever title). The film comes to us courtesy of the producers of last year’s brilliant, and similarly caustic, The Worst Person in the World, and you get the sense that if the female protagonists of both movies were to meet IRL, they’d probably get along. Or maybe they’d have a fight to the death over who’s the most terrible person.
Sick of Myself opens with a young couple engaged in some kind of power play game over an expensive bottle of wine in a restaurant. Thomas (Eirik Sæther) is a pompous artist who enjoys both stealing things and forcing his long-suffering girlfriend, Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp), to do so on his behalf. Although most normal people would baulk at being coerced into doing something illegal by their partner purely for their enjoyment, there’s a glint in Signe’s eyes that suggests she’s not totally opposed to this bizarre setup. Borgli never makes it clear why these two freaks are together, since they don’t even really seem to like each other that much, but it’s obvious this is working for them.
Judging by interviews, Borgli isn’t entirely sure himself, which adds to the queasy, discomfiting atmosphere his movie cultivates. It’s a genuine marvel, completely unique, super modern, and yet strangely universal too. Signe’s increasingly desperate behavior may be tough to understand at times, but considering how much of our lives are cultivated for a global audience that may or may not even exist, it’s easy to understand where she’s coming from. There’s also an element of sexism to her struggle, as when Signe is surrounded by men at a party, none of whom care what she has to say. Signe has no shame in her hustle either, matter-of-factly telling a friend, “Narcissists are the ones who make it.” Simply put, she wants more attention, and it doesn’t matter if it’s negative.
Before Signe takes a whole buttload of pills to forcibly give herself a hideous skin disease, she’s so jealous of a dog attack victim that the bored barista tries to lure another pooch to bite her too. Later, Signe fakes a nut allergy at a fancy dinner primarily because the other guests assume she’s her boyfriend’s sister (thanks to how uncaring Thomas is acting). She’s truly going to extremes, but when something finally catches on, Signe gets more than she bargained for, and suddenly Sick of Myself turns into a body horror movie complete with some impressively gross makeup and prosthetic work. Naturally, though, she isn’t fazed, even taking sexy pics in a hospital gown with full facial bandages.
Signe may be the “I just wanted attention” gif personified, but she’s not that far off from some of the grifters and scammers we’ve seen come to the fore in recent years. Consider the fact that, in some of the movie’s funniest scenes, Signe sits mindlessly smoking, sunbathing, and scrolling through social media on her phone–all while gussied up like the Elephant Man. She even brags about how hard her new life is in a support group filled with people who have actual, life-threatening health issues–including some that aren’t as obvious to the naked eye, as one participant makes a point of explaining to her. Signe clearly has no self-awareness whatsoever; she’s self-involved to the point of insanity, but all she really wants is to be seen. And who among us can’t relate to that?
Sick of Myself has plenty of overlap with The Worst Person in the World, from its breath-taking cinematography (by Benjamin Loeb, who also shot Mandy), which makes Oslo look strikingly beautiful–almost as though it’s constantly magic hour–to the complicated female protagonist and her constant fantasizing about a more exciting and drama-filled life. They also share an actor, with Anders Danielsen Lie cameoing as a doctor. But Borgli’s film is darker, edgier, and less inclined to give its lead a neat, happy ending (mostly because Signe doesn’t deserve one, let’s be honest). There’s an ongoing discussion about whether true equality means featuring female characters who aren’t perfect or infallible, and Borgli takes that idea to its most literal conclusion by making Signe both inwardly and outwardly despicable.
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Much like Renate Reinsve’s peerless performance in The Worst Person in the World, Kujath Thorp is exceptional as Signe. The actor notably didn’t view her as a villain, instead seeing the movie’s protagonist/antagonist as a broken person deserving of our sympathy. She has a lot to do here, even outside of the disgusting makeup, from vomiting up blood at inopportune moments to communicating a barely contained desperation when things don’t go her way whether it’s a conversation or a magazine photoshoot. There are clever visual clues to her unravelling mental state too. For much of Sick of Myself, Signe’s blue manicure remains intact. Once her nails are finally neglected, we know she’s really lost it.
The costuming is great too, with a half-see-through shirt that Thomas dons at one point standing out in particular. Even when things seem hopeless, Signe ensures she still looks runway ready (at least in her own head, anyway). Despite the dark subject matter, Sick of Myself is frequently laugh out loud funny–or maybe that should be clap-your-hand-over-your-mouth-in-shock funny. When Signe is first hospitalized, Thomas demands to know whether her condition is contagious, to which she responds, “How many times are you going to ask?” There are tons of brilliant sight gags, especially once she starts falling apart in front of our eyes, and to Borgli’s great credit, the story never goes where you think it’s headed, leaving us constantly on edge for what horrible event is coming next.
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Signe is a performative person, making a big show of seemingly being unable to swallow, but her symptoms do genuinely get worse and it’s sad to see her left to convulse on the floor following an embarrassing moment at a photoshoot while everybody rushes to help the more normal-looking colleague next to her who’s fainted at the sight. The publicity-hungry Signe joins an agency that’s been ostensibly set up with the intention of helping differently abled models get more work. But a blind woman who works there is consistently mistreated by the boss, who’s annoyed at how slowly she carries out basic tasks but is clearly unwilling to fire her because it would mean going against everything she supposedly stands for.
When Signe falls ill at the shoot, it’s the blind woman who calls the ambulance too, hinting that she’s got more concern for others than they often pretend to have for her. The humor is pitch-black but there’s an underlying message about who’s deemed worthy of our concern and our kindness that slices like a knife the longer Signe’s charade drags on. Sick of Myself is a very modern story at its core. Although this kind of female protagonist is one we’ve seen elsewhere, there’s something about Signe that’s so monstrous, so confronting, and so utterly self-serving that she could only have emerged at this precise moment in time.
Borgli doesn’t overplay his hand, nor does he belabor the point. What you get from the movie will depend on how willing you are to investigate your own prejudices and to see yourself through the lens of someone who, regardless of how despicably she acts, is inescapably human.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Kristoffer Borgli
Writer(s): Kristoffer Borgli
Stars: Kristine Kujath Thorp, Eirik Sæther, Fanny Vaager, Anders Danielsen Lie
Release date: April 12, 2023 (NY), April 13 (LA), before expanding elsewhere
Run Time: 95 minutes