We live in a world of so much connectedness, yet how connected are we to one another? In Magnus von Horn’s Sweat, we see how alone we can be in the midst of masses. We see that celebrity is not the same of a happy, healthy life. We see that what we see of someone on the surface may be far different than who they really are.
Sylwia (Magdalena Koleśnik) is a fitness guru and social media influencer. We first see her as she leads a mass workout in a mall. Afterwards everyone throngs her getting selfies and telling her how much they all love her. She has about 600,000 followers on social media. She posts videos constantly—pictures of her body, opening gift bags from sponsors, walking her dog.
When she meets with her agent, he is concerned about a recent video she posted that went viral. In it she cries because she has no one in her life. The video has made sponsors nervous. They want her to be seen as a happy, successful person—the kind that the world will want to emulate (by buying their products).
That crying video reflects a bit of the reality of her life, but it is a part that she keeps hidden most of the time. Instead, we see the beautiful, ever-smiling, upbeat persona that she has created. That is a person whose vlog is filled with people posting videos talking about how much they mean to her. But that video also brings out a stalker who feels connected to her by her loneliness. When she notices him in his car masturbating outside her apartment building, she feels threatened and disgusted.
Most of the movie deals with Sylwia as she goes through daily life. What we discover is that despite hundreds of thousands of followers, she is a person without a friend. She may be famous. She may be admired. She may be known by many. But she is ultimately alone.
Even when she goes to her mother’s birthday party with family friends, she is not really a part of the group. At one point she heads off to another room to eat her specially catered meal while others enjoy a dinner together. She doesn’t even eat cake, because it does not fit her lifestyle. She has lost all sense of joy and celebration, swallowed up by the persona that the world sees.
In press notes, the director says he is intrigued by what he calls “emotional exhibitionists”—those who can bare their feelings to the world. Sylwia is trying to balance her emotional life between such sharing, and maintaining the persona she has created. When she appears on a morning TV show, we watch as she alternates between those two aspects. She defends her emotional outpouring, because she knows that loneliness is a reality for many peoples. But then she moves to a workout and turns the switch from real Sylwia and public Sylwia.
Sweat allows us to consider our own senses of being connected or disconnected—especially in the age of social media. Does the number of “friends” we have on Facebook reflect our closeness to people, or are we deluding ourselves to think that we care for and are cared for by those people?
Ecclesiastes speaks of the need to be connected to other people. The church is designed to be a connection between people and God, but also one person to another. That is one of the key meanings of sharing in the Lord’s Supper. I think that is why I see the scene of Sylwia eating a different meal in a different room struck me as one of the key scenes. It is coming to a table together that helps us understand ourselves and the world.
Sweat is playing in select theaters.
Photos courtesy of Mubi.