Director Joachim Trier’s (OSLO, AUGUST 31st and LOUDER THAN BOMBS) latest film combines the austerity of his previous films with a spin-off of the CARRIE the Stephen King story/Brian de Palma film where Sissy Spacek moves objects to avenge herself from the people who have wronged her.
THELMA inevitably draws comparisons from CARRIE but these are two very different films despite the similar subject matter.
The film follows a timid young woman, THELMA (Eili Harboe) who leaves her rural home to study in Oslo. There, she finds love for the first time. This love happens to be for a classmate of the same sex, which makes her extremely guilty because of her religion. But her relationship is complicated by her family’s oppressive meddling, their seemingly fundamentalist religious beliefs, and, possibly, her unique ability to shape and affect her environment. When Thelma is upset or agitated, strange things seem to happen. She also goes into epileptic fits which cannot be explained by the hospital doctors.
Trier’s film works for two reasons. Trier keeps the story one step ahead of his audience, making it always interesting. The other, related to this reason, is that he is thus able to use the tool of audience anticipation. The first time Thelma is shown in the film exhibiting her powers is in the school library. Birds crash onto the library window while she goes into convulsions. Then nothing till later in the film. Trier uses the first third of the film to introduce Thelma, her family and surroundings to the audience without much happening. And what will Thelma do next? What is she really capable of? How will the film end? One at least knows from the history of movies in this genre that the bad guys will get what is coming to them. In THELMA, Trier keeps the ambiguity on who is bad or who is good.
The most intriguing fact in THELMA which is never explained is Thelma’s mother’s accident. Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) is seen in the latter part of the film in a wheelchair. Is this a result of Thelma’s doing or an accident or due to her father Trond’s (Henrik Rafaelsen) meddling.
Trier also ups the mystery element by introducing the character of Thelma’s grandmother. She is bedridden in a home. Thelma thinks her grandmother is dead and visits her, unbeknown to her parents, thinking that her grandmother possesses the same power she has and that her father had given her medication to cause her to be in that sorry state of affairs. When Trond gives her daughter pills to calm her down, Thelma grows suspicious that he might be poisoning her.
Trier never explains the origin or cause of Thelma’s powers. But neither did the film CARRIE. It does not matter the reason, but what Trier wants to do with the power that matters.
THELMA succeeds as a psychological horror drama that keep the audience intrigued from start to end. THELMA is shot in Norwegian.