Directed by Joaquim Trier | Written by Trier and Eskil Vogt | 116 min
We open on a little girl and her father walking in the wintry woods, hunting. A deer appears, and Dad raises his rifle. But instead of aiming at the doe, he points the weapon at his daughter, a few steps away, unknowing. But he doesn’t shoot.
Flash forward: Thelma (Elie Harboe) is an undergrad, alone at a sprawling Norwegian university. She was raised by tight, Christian parents (played by Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Petersen), and she misses them, especially her father, the hunter. She calls home every night. While at school she meets another student, Anja (Kaya Wilkins), and a tentative friendship starts, with the possibility of romance. This is a painful realization to the god-fearing young woman, her same-sex desires. At the same time, Thelma starts to experience seizures, and maybe even the possibly of telekinetic or supernatural ability. In the midst of getting treatment for her condition, she stumbles upon a buried family secret.
Carrie and The Fury are Thelma‘s clear antecedents, though Trier’s lovely but austere approach, backed by a solid, monolithic score (courtesy of Ola Fløttum), makes the entire enterprise feel a lot more dreamlike and allegorical. Beneath this coming-of-age supernatural thriller, is it actually about the power of femininity, of burgeoning sexuality, freed from the strict repression of religion? So was Carrie, I suppose, but Trier’s picture is more languid, and far less sordid. It still delivers slabs of suspense, crossing over into horror in a few, brief moments.
Trier’s work here is nothing if not hypnotic. It’s easy to get lost in its gauzy eye, and Harboe and Wilkins couldn’t be more sylph-like. But, having strolled through the mystery of Thelma’s origins and abilities, we want her to find herself, to exorcise herself. Maybe, in the final analysis, she does, but we don’t get to enjoy it quite enough. The cool, tasteful approach robs the film of a genuine emotional crescendo.
Thelma opens at the ParkLane in Halifax on Friday, December 1, 2017