A new Norwegian film from the producers of The Worst Person in the World has hit cinema screens, and it is even more provoking, outlandish, and weird than its predecessor.
There are two types of flawed protagonist in movies. One is the antihero, someone who we like despite their failings. We like Batman, even though he’s emotionally repressed and moody. We like Bonnie and Clyde, even though they’re bank-robbing criminals. And we like the Grinch, even though he stole Christmas. The second kind of flawed hero in cinema is rarer and more complicated than the first. They are called the rough hero, someone who we admire because of their negative traits. We delight as the Joker terrorises Gotham, we cheer as Walter White flourishes as a drug lord. This is the category Signe falls into, a young woman single-handedly embodying social media narcissism.
The film revolves around a trendy couple in Norway, who happen to be the most obnoxiously self-involved people in the world. Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) is a compulsive liar and café worker, and her boyfriend Thomas (Eirik Sæther) makes contemporary art out of stolen furniture. They are each as delightfully horrible as the other, in a way that is less nuanced and more thoroughly enjoyable than The Worst Person in the World. They bicker, lie, sabotage and undermine each other openly, and seem to have silently agreed that this is a fine and normal way to conduct their relationship. When Thomas suddenly achieves moderate fame as a contemporary artist, Signe goes to extreme lengths to compete with his newfound attention: she gives herself a skin disease using illegal Russian drugs bought on the internet.
As a protagonist, Signe has all the compelling magnetism of a flaming car crash. She’s a compulsive liar, cruel to animals, selfish around her friends, and entirely self-obsessed. She has no impulse control, throwing a laptop out the window when Thomas interrogates her. She pretends to have a nut allergy, lies to blind people, and fakes so many things that by the end of the film we can no longer be sure when she is telling the truth. And yet, somehow, she still always manages to paint herself as the victim. Signe and Thomas push the boundaries of what is appropriate and tasteful in a way that is almost exhilarating for a voyeuristic audience who would likely never lie about having an allergy, let alone make themselves horribly sick for attention.
Despite the outlandish story, the film remains believable thanks to the location shooting, naturalistic performances, and an unfortunately realistic representation of attention-seeking culture encouraged by social media. There’s also a kernel of realism in Signe’s relationship with Thomas; their connection rings true, and they really do need each other, because surely no one else would have them. It’s almost touching.
That John Waters, director of Pink Flamingos (in which a drag queen famously eats dog excrement), has approved this movie makes sense. There is something camp, revolting, and fun in how this film presents its ultimately nihilistic worldview with obvious relish. Once the dust settles on the outrageous ride though, you might find yourself reflecting on the bleak, unfulfilled state of things. Apart from Signe’s lonely, pitiable drug dealer, there are pretty much no redeemable characters in this landscape—from the modelling agency that signs Signe after her deformity to the Tinder matches, wellness specialists, and dinner party guests who populate the background, everyone is either self-involved, miserable, jaded or outright cruel. The fact that Signe doesn’t aspire to fame, just attention, is symptomatic of a culture where pity garners at least notice, if not love.
Although all of the characters are thoroughly unlikeable, Sick of Myself ends up being a charming and enjoyable ride that will have you laughing out loud, horrified, sadly reflective, and then laughing again—all within a tidy ninety-minute run time. Perhaps the most impressive part of this whole tightrope act is that we actually feel ourselves beginning to root for what is an undeniably deranged character with no guilt or shame, who, unsatisfied with her massive privilege, deforms herself for attention. The only thing the film is missing is a little more sense of closure—it ramps up dramatically before coming to an abrupt halt. But maybe the point is that Signe’s toxic self-indulgence will never truly end.
What this movie gets right is balance—between comedy, horror, and tension; between outrageous characters and everyday settings; between reality and dream sequences. We laugh, but leave the cinema feeling unsettled, morbid, and maybe just a little bit lonely.
Words by Eli Dolliver
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