Credit: Oslo Pictures
by Molly Adams Featured Film Horizon Line

Sick of Myself — Kristoffer Borgli

April 14, 2023

Everybody knows a low-stakes liar. Whether it’s Instagram exaggerations or anecdotes reconfigured to place themselves as the hero, this kind of one-upmanship is practically currency in the attention economy, a shortcut to fame for those attention-seekers who can get the balance just right. Signe, the protagonist of Kristoffer Borgli’s Sick of Myself, is an expert at this narcissistic game, carefully configuring situations that trade minimal lies for maximum attention, placing herself at the center of every conflict, perfectly posed and ready for when all eyes eventually turn to her. Her partner, Thomas, is just as flawed, with his entire artistic career seemingly just a vehicle for his own self-centeredness. When Thomas’s career takes off, Signe ups the ante with respect to her own lies, deliberately falling ill and going viral in the process.

Everywhere in Sick of Myself, characters know they are being watched. Borgli’s camera often lurks in the middle distance, a peeping tom without any hint of eroticism, a permanent voyeur at a remove from any emotional reality. Characters constantly reorient themselves under the glances of others, shifting to position their own bodies in whatever larger narrative they are trying to construct, whether it be the heroic bystander, the doting boyfriend, or any number of other roles. Borgli constructs a world where every character is an exhibitionist, though there isn’t necessarily any pleasure in the act. Borgli lingers on his characters in moments where they are being seen or preparing to be seen imminently, letting his audience into the brief moment before the mask goes on. While Signe and Thomas certainly find a certain thrill in their lies, Borgli’s invasive but still often distant camera implies another possibility — instead of a voyeur, the camera is a means of surveillance. The constant need to maintain a facade in public lends even background actors a degree of paranoia that shows sympathy to modern narcissists — Sick of Myself asks us whether it is really self-centered to be obsessed with self-image when the whole world is, in fact, watching?

As Signe, Kristine Kujath Thorp plays the narcissist almost as a gambling addict, balancing the thrill-seeking impulse with the shame of discovery and even a degree of solemnity, as she bows to the inevitability of her own instincts without so much as a second thought. The intensity of her performance, almost entirely self-serious, is at glorious odds with the rest of Borgli’s film, and makes her the perfect satirical center of the film. Styled in a silk headscarf and sunglasses, Signe is a perverse reinterpretation of the Hollywood ingenue, and the seamless way Borgli grounds Kujath Thorp’s tragicomic performance ensures his satire has some actual bite to it. At its heart, Sick of Myself is less interested in making dull, sweeping statements about social media or the state of society and never opts for anything so tactless — the closest Borgli gets to this type of facile analysis is in Signe’s own ego-driven fantasies, which have none of the nuance of her actual life. Signe’s lies aren’t entirely driven by a need for fame or a result of a brain warped by social media, but they are instead about control. Making headlines means having a degree of control over one’s own public narrative, being the more successful partner equates to Signe having control in her relationship, and even her fantasy of a public redemption arc is a coping mechanism when her lies begin to spiral out of control. A strong script from Borgli weaves satire expertly with character study and offers a sharp, considered take on the very present attention economy.

Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 4.