“Narcissists are the ones who make it,” complains Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp, Ninjababy, 2021) at a party near the beginning of Sick of Myself (Syk Pike), unable to recognise – as all her friends do – that, despite not making it, she is herself a narcissist. She lives with artist du jour Thomas (Erik Sæther), which gives her access to a coterie of interesting people, but she feels very much in the shadow of his success. Thomas treats Signe as just part of the furniture in his life – and in his art, which is reconstituted from high-end designer chairs. In turn, she competitively undermines him in any way she can, desperate to purloin the attention that he gets no less than she helps him steal large furnishings from expensive boutiques. When, one day, she steps in to help a woman in her cafe who has been horrifically gored by a dog, the blood-stained Signe is both mistaken for a victim, and praised for her bravery, and so finds a new, deeply unhealthy way to become the heroine of her own narrative rather than a mere side player.
As its very title suggests, this latest, darkly funny feature from writer/director Kristoffer Borgli (Drib, 2017) puts the spotlight on a very modern kind of affliction, pathologising the narcissism of our age. As Signe at first tries to get a dog to bite her too, then feigns various illnesses, and then wilfully takes – and keeps taking – an illegal Russian drug that she knows is giving her a disfiguring skin disease, her Munchausen syndrome, though entirely factitious, is a sign of a very real, more profound pyschological disorder: an addiction to attention rooted in a sense of abandonment by her father. Signe desperately hopes to parlay the physical harm done to her body into material for selfies, hits online, a media profile to rival Thomas’, and her very own celebrity (whether as an ‘inclusivity’ model or author), even as her fantasies of fame – which regularly punctuate the film – are offset by her lack of anything to offer beyond her own slyly unhinged acts of self-destruction. If this is Signe’s moment, she is its martyr.
Where Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World (2021) – whose title was antiphrastic – tracked a largely sympathetic character through the vicissitudes and pressures of millennial life, Sick of Myself is the dark reverse of Trier’s film, diagnosing the core problems of a woman who glibly chases pity and easy victimhood without ever winning our sympathy or even putting in the barest modicum of work, and who might genuinely contend for the title of ‘worst person in the world’. Like an avatar of the Trumpian era, Signe will lie and cheat and toxify her own image in pursuit of the approval and validation that she so craves, even though her damaged sense of self always remains only skin-deep. As an impostor attaching herself vampirically to suffering, Signe, like the protagonist of David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), regularly attends self-help groups for the seriously ill. Yet she really is sick, and does need therapy, as Borgil’s pitch-black satire anatomises the less salubrious aspects of self-love. Though certainly concerned with grave issues, this comedy will, like Signe herself, leave you feeling fooled for taking it too seriously. Her alienation, after all, is our entertainment – and perhaps also our laughing cure for an ailment that is, in its broadest symptomatology, more widespread than we might like to think.
Strap: Kristoffer Borgli’s dark satire diagnoses modern attention-seeking narcissism as a form of extreme self-harm
© Anton Bitel