When women don’t listen to men, when daughters don’t listen to fathers, they are the threat to end all threats. Such
is Thelma, the eponymous heroine (anti-heroine?) of Joachim Trier’s fourth feature, a mytho-romance, a supernatural coming-of-age tale about a woman with the power to make the world give her what she wants – often by expunging what she doesn’t.
Eili Harboe is Thelma’s star in name as well as presence, playing a sheltered first-year university student – no drinking, no smoking, only whispered cursing – so tightly wound up when we first meet her that she appears spring loaded. And, indeed, when she meets Anja (Norwegian musician Kaya Wilkins, arresting in her first feature), Thelma’s hormones go haywire and she collapses in the first of a series of psychogenic (stress-related, not epileptic) seizures. This kind of love literally makes the ground move, the lights flicker.
Though Anja returns Thelma’s affection, it becomes too much for the latter, whose quasi-zealot dad (Henrik Rafaelsen) has shown her what hell is (other people, apparently), and she inadvertently disappears her paramour. It turns out this disappearing thing has happened before, but this time she refuses to sacrifice what she wants in the name of the father.
Thelma is Trier’s first attempt at a “horror” (though it’s less terrifying, more trippy) and he adeptly weaves eerie unearthly images – a swirl of birds, a snake inside a body, a coughed-up bird – into the real world he is more accustomed to. The space, the time, he gives to Thelma’s isolation makes this quiet mystical imagery all the more resonant, makes Anja’s sudden arrival all the more haunting, makes Thelma’s transformation into her own woman
all the more empowering.