Thelma opens with a picturesque long shot as a young girl and, presumably, her father walk across an ice-covered lake to the deep blanket of – audibly underfoot crunching – snow where father and daughter head into the woods to go hunting. The man stops and lifts his rifle, taking aim at an approaching deer only to turn it onto the back of the head of the small child dressed in red. It immediately calls to mind Snow White and her trip with the Huntsman and even a little Red Riding Hood.
Fade to black – signifying a time lapse – and an aerial shot slowly zooms in and follows a young woman (also wearing a red tone) as she walks across campus and into a biology lecture. So sets the scene of Joachim Trier’s fourth feature. Once again he partners with screenwriter Eskil Vogt to bring something a little different yet equally as beautiful and resonant as Reprise, and Oslo, August 31st, if far more supernatural and allegorical in tone.
Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a shy loner, has stiflingly over-protective and controlling parents (Blind’s Ellen Dorrit Peterson and Henrik Rafaelsen) and begins to experience seizures, seemingly triggered by her meeting Anya (Kaya Wilkins). Slowly, she begins to integrate herself into a social circle, her Christian upbringing a source of fascination for some of her new friends. Torn between fulfilling her parents’ expectations, self-acceptance and suppressing everything else – including her attraction to Any – Thelma’s psychogenic seizures begin to debilitate until she seeks medical help and the truth about her condition is revealed.
While a coming-of-age with supernatural elements is nothing new, Trier’s evocative, moody and visually arresting love story manages to sustain its mystery for the 116-minute runtime. Some may be reminded of Carrie but this has more in common with Let the Right One in (2009) and When Animals Dream (2014) riffing on the Female Gothic, Nordic-style, via horror tropes/themes offering a melancholic and deliberately paced affecting drama. True to Trier form, there is the signature neutral colour palette of greys, blues and muted tones punctuated with the occasional burst of colour, the slightly voyeuristic camera courtesy of Jakob Ihre’s cinematography, along with the jarring soundtrack (that occasionally diminishes into deafening silence) by composer Ola Fløttum.
Okay, so the Freudian/religious imagery is a little on the nose but for a modern day gothic fairy tale-come-teen-drama, Thelma deals beautifully with the ambiguity of growing-up, trauma, and the end of oppressive patriarchal control, as well as the need for autonomy, self-love and acceptance.