SICK OF MYSELF: The Psychotic Heights/Depths of Contemporary Narcissism

Sick of Myself (2023)
Directed & Written by Kristoffer Borgli
Starring Kristine Kujath Thorp, Eirik Sæther, Fanny Vaager, Sarah Francesca Brænne, & Fredrik Stenberg Ditlev-Simonsen.

Comedy / Drama / Horror

1/2 (out of )

The following essay contains
You’ve been warned.
Now you can’t be a dick about it because I warned you.

Father Son Holy Gore - Sick of Myself - Bloody SigneIn Kristoffer Borgli’s Sick of Myself, one woman’s narcissism goes from harmless childish behaviour to gruesome bodily experimentation gone far past wrong. Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) watches her boyfriend Thomas (Eirik Sæther) gaining traction in the art world, but she wants to be the centre of everyone’s attention. At first it’s just Signe trying to upstage Thomas in social situations. It then devolves into a dangerous exercise in narcissism, as Signe goes to extreme lengths to get the attention she craves. After Signe gets her hands on an illegal, dangerous drug, she sees her body start to change, and people think she’s been struck by a mysterious illness. This brings her all kinds of attention, even a degree of fame. There comes a horrific price, too.

Sick of Myself is pure, scathing satire of our current Western culture. In the film, celebrity and fame are the major theme overall, but the online world plays a major part in them, just as much as it does in real life. Though Signe isn’t driven solely by social media validation, her narcissism’s sped up by the urgency of how quick popularity grows and shifts in the online space, and her downfall is as quick as her ascent once things go wrong for her. There’s also a commentary in Borgli’s film about victimhood, though not in the right-wing sense of an inability to see genuine victims as opposed to those who use victimhood as a path to celebrity. Borgli likewise makes sure to separate the real victims from those who wear victimhood as a narcissistic tool, and satirically illustrates the consequences of such ugly manipulation.
Father Son Holy Gore - Sick of Myself - Eating Pills

“There’s no room for anything else”

Father Son Holy Gore - Sick of Myself - Bandaged SigneSigne’s growing narcissism begins on a small scale and speeds up, as well as gets more unsettling, exponentially with every new dose of attention she receives. The initial act that puts Signe on a path of terrifying narcissism is when she’s working at her cafe job and a women outside is bitten by a dog; Signe ends up cradling the bleeding woman until help arrives. She then wears the bloody shirt home, she doesn’t even wash her face, and she relishes in the attention people give her. She keeps the shirt on at home until Thomas notices and turns on a theatrical performance with tears after he does. Signe spends weeks talking about the incident and exaggerating her role in the incident. From there, she fakes a nut allergy at a big dinner meant to be focused on Thomas’s art, which gets everybody worried about her. She goes as far as to fake a minor reaction, to the point an ambulance is nearly called. Later on, Signe tries to get a dog to bite her, tormenting one on the street until its owner runs her off and curses at her. Finally, she comes up with the idea to get her hands on an illegal drug, Lidexol, that she knows will give her a more lasting, visible way of gaining sympathy, or any other form of attention, from people. Her narcissism gets absurdly nasty when we hear her on the phone complaining about her interview post-disfiguration is being upstaged by a person shooting their whole family. In a darkly comic way Signe barks into the phone: “What fucking nerd shoots his whole family?”

Signe’s narcissism leading to her facial disfiguration inadvertently reveals, to the audience, the complexity of what disability and inclusivity really mean socially and in terms of the business world’s practices. First, when Signe goes to a support group for people with disabilities, she discovers a social hierarchy of sympathies in terms of how people treat a visible illness versus how they treat invisible illnesses like anxiety, depression, and many more. One woman gets fed up listening to Signe, lamenting not having a “visible illness that everyone can see” because she, and others like her, don’t garner the same degree of sympathy as someone like Signe, whose facial disfigurement automatically catches peoples’ attention. Secondly, and far more darkly comic, the modelling agency that hires Signe is a fantastic example of the business world’s fake inclusivity without any real work behind it. After the modelling agency signs Signe, her facial difference is only beautiful to the agency up to a certain point, after which she’s no longer valued, which is the case with real modelling agencies who’ll feature a few models here and there with different attributes than what they typically feature but only to a certain point, there’s still a level of non-beauty that beauty culture is unwilling to tolerate, let alone accept. Better still, the woman who runs the agency rambles on about her “focus on inclusivity” while she employs a blind woman to pour coffee and water without “fixed places” for things; the scene when the blind lady mentions keeping things in one place to her boss is a riot. Inclusivity without accommodation means little to nothing, and a clever scene like this helps make Sick of Myself such smart satire. Similar to not accommodating the blind employee, the modelling agency head makes very clear when having Signe sign a contract that the agency will not be responsible for her health; an example of how capitalists want all the benefits of inclusivity without offering anything in return to those they exploit.
Father Son Holy Gore - Sick of Myself - Bleeding RegardlessWhat makes Signe’s narcissism is so dangerous, and what Borgli focuses on deliberately throughout the film using several sequences that are eventually revealed as Signe’s daydream visions, is that she genuinely knows what she’s doing is wrong, so her conscious choices to lie to and manipulate people makes her narcissism psychopathic. Signe envisions her journalist friend running into the dealer, whom she said was dead, and discovering Signe’s history of pathological lies and constructed victimhood. In another vision, Signe sees the dealer who got her the illegal drug covered in his own scars since she didn’t tell him what the drug would do. The best, most telling vision is when Signe imagines waking up after being rushed to the hospital and encountering a doctor who bluntly states that they discovered she’s been using illegal drugs, tells her she has a bad sense of humour and does “racist caricatures” in the mirror at home, and explains that the police have come to “immediately execute her.” Perhaps the worst is that the vision Signe has involving writing a book about her experience and becoming famous from it happens after she’s admitted the truth of her deception and manipulation to her journalist friend. This makes her narcissistic psychopathy that much worse since she’s learned nothing; she only sees a way to her dream life, even after admitting to her shitty behaviour and, to a degree, her narcissism. She is shameless to the bitter end.
Although the most troublesome vision Signe has shows that she’s eroticised her need for attention; she actually gets off on it. Thomas and Signe have sex for the first time after her face was scarred and the dirty talk becomes Thomas talking about how he imagined her dying from her injuries. Signe urges Thomas on, making him talk about the funeral, and seeing her sad estranged father, and so on. Each thrust from Thomas into Signe is punctuated with a funeral bell toll, joining sex and death in an eroticism that portrays the pathological depths of Signe’s lust for attention.

But what does Signe’s story actually say about the contemporary world in which fame has become a form of currency online? There’s something tragic in the isolation that drives a person like Signe, in that they have to feel a deep, inherent loneliness to want to be the centre of attention to a point they’ll damage themselves, physically or psychologically, in order to use victimhood as a vessel for celebrity. It’s the same engine that drives a seriously deranged syndrome like Munchausen, or Munchausen by proxy; a comparison that draws out the psychopathy in a narcissism like that of Signe even more. If there’s a profound point to Sick of Myself, it might be that this contemporary world—a world now built around online interactions reduced to booster shots of validation—creates a troubling degree of isolation and loneliness in those who don’t receive any validation.
The online world of freedoms and technological innovation we’ve built has, in reality, become a steel trap that locks people into algorithms just like the apps they use, creating people who feel the need to put on a constructed identity, who see their life experiences as just content fodder for an Instagram feed, who fabricate those experiences to be perfectly photographed and captured in convenient 15-second clips. Signe’s psychotic narcissism and the body horror she experiences as a result are the satirical end result of an online economy of validation that rewards the most unhealthy behaviours and lifestyles with fame.

One thought on “SICK OF MYSELF: The Psychotic Heights/Depths of Contemporary Narcissism

  1. Pingback: This Week at the Movies (Apr. 28, 2023) – Online Film Critics Society

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