THE STORY – A Norwegian student, Thelma, moves to Oslo where she falls in love with another girl. She soon discovers that she has inexplicable powers triggered by her emotions for this girl.
THE CAST – Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen & Tom Lindstrøm
THE TEAM – Joachim Trier (Director/Writer) & Eskil Vogt (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 116 Minutes
By Matt N.
Control. What is it? What does it mean to have it? Do we ever really have it? This is at the core of what “Thelma,” Joachim Trier’s new film (“Louder Than Bombs” & “Oslo, August 31st”) is about. Thelma is a young woman who is trying to take control of her body and her life. Her parents are also trying to take control of her while her own mind fights to take control over her own supernatural abilities. It is a striking piece of work from the Norwegian film director that does not always land its storytelling properly but is filled with enough intrigue to keep you invested.
A young woman named Thelma (Eili Harboe) is going away to college in the city, far away from her conservative Christian parents. Ever since Thelma was a little girl, she has had supernatural abilities which involved transporting individuals from one place to another. Ever fearful of her powers, her parents do their best to shelter her and raise her in the image of God’s eye. When she is finally away from them, she develops a romantic connection with a fellow student named Anja (Kaya Wilkins). However, her once forgotten abilities begin to resurface again when she comes into contact or thinks about her new romantic interest leading her to question what is truly wrong with her.
Eili Harboe gives a fantastic breakout performance in “Thelma.” Her performance is emotionally charged from the moment she steps into the frame, till the moment the final credits roll. She is tasked with conveying a series of emotions ranging from confusion, oppression, and self-realization. She is a danger to herself and to those around her. However, despite her powers, all she wants is to be like everyone else. She has dreams and desires that she wants to see fulfilled even if it means going against her Christian upbringing. The relationship between Anja and Thelma is one that is not fully fleshed out from a screenwriting standpoint, (Anja must recognize that Thelma is dangerous, right?) however, both actresses are more than capable of making it believable.
The very idea of having epileptic seizures and then being told that it may be something else is terrifying in its own right. Misdiagnosis by medical professionals who we place our trust in is one of the very few times where we willingly give up control so that we may continue to live long and healthy lives. The consequences of being wrong could mean life or death and it is a harrowing thought. This is where “Thelma” gathers most of its horror elements from. Sure, there may be hallucinations involving snakes, people on fire and other dangerous moments but this is not a straight horror film as much as it is a psychological horror film. Told with an artist’s eye and a thoughtful pace, “Thelma” certainly looks and feels beautiful. However, a questionable second half that feels more generic and clunky compared to it its first half, brings down the film a few notches along the way. There is a line in the film where Thelma tells a story from her past as a child where her father would hold her hand over a candle for a period of time just before it burnt. He then told her “This is what it is like in hell all the time.” Thelma may have created hell on earth for those around her. Maybe she is living in her own hell. The ending of the film is left ambiguous, leaving us to wonder if Thelma will be able to find her own place in the world, if the world will accept her and if she now has full control.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Eili Harboe gives an emotionally charged breakthrough performance. Director Joachim Trier fills the film with enough haunting imagery and intrigue to pique our interest.
THE BAD – An uneven second half that does not help pull the film together into a cohesive whole.