The Norwegian film explores everyday themes through a suspenseful plot.
Thelma is the kind of film that leaves you with plenty more questions to ponder and only a few of your original ones answered. This ending feels appropriate in a poetic sense given that the film follows Thelma (Eili Harboe) as she begins at university and tries to find her way in the world. Becoming an adult, searching for your own identity that’s separate from your parents, and falling in love for the first time leave you with more questions than when you started.
The film begins with an eerie flashback opening scene of a young Thelma taken out hunting in the Norwegian wilderness by her father Trond (Henrik Rafaelson). Then we are whipped to the present, where an adult Thelma is starting her first semester of university, but the tone of uneasiness set in the first scene remains.
We quickly become acquainted with Thelma’s situation. She is shy, she has trouble making friends and doesn’t drink, and her parents are fanatical Christians who keep in near-constant contact with their daughter. We also see that she has a very tender and honest relationship with her father, who genuinely comforts her when she’s feeling disheartened and lonely in her new life. All in all, Thelma appears to be a normal, if a bit nervous, kid starting college.
Then, things take a turn for the strange. During her first encounter with Anja (Kaya Wilkins) in the library, birds begin to slam themselves into the huge windows and Thelma has a sudden seizure in front of a huge crowd of concerned classmates. It soon becomes clear that Thelma is feeling very strong attraction toward Anja that she desperately tries to resist, convinced that her thoughts and feelings are unholy.
As the film progresses, more exposition is revealed in flashback, Thelma continues to experience desire for Anja and a supernatural power that she tries to investigate, and director Joachim Trier exhibits some truly gorgeous filmmaking. However, Thelma toes the line between many circles without actually committing to any of them. Instead of making the film stronger, this hesitation actually holds it back from being something truly incredible. It doesn’t quite become a character study. But also doesn’t quite become a horror movie. And doesn’t quite become a family drama. Yet doesn’t quite become a social commentary. Trier presents a plethora of stimulating allegorical visuals but stops short of actually backing them up with deeper meaning.
Thelma is directed by Joachim Trier and stars Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelson, and Ellen Dorrit Petersen.
Photo credit: Indiewire.