Greetings again from the darkness. Joachim Trier continues to deliver projects with his frequent writing partner and collaborator Eskil Vogt that cause us to take note of their intriguing and always (so far) interesting filmmaking. They may not be the fastest workers – OSLO, AUGUST 31 came out in 2011 and it has been over two years since LOUDER THAN BOMBS – but we can’t help but appreciate their original stories and unique vision.
A chilling opening of a father/young daughter hunting trip sets an uneasy tone for the rest of the film. We then flash forward to that young girl heading off to college. Eilie Harboe is excellent as Thelma, a quiet young woman leaving home and her protective parents for the first time. Thelma has had a restrictive Christian upbringing and she’s now a withdrawn, socially inept college student, simultaneously anxious to explore her new freedom and guilt-ridden with every new experience.
The school library is the setting for the first chance encounter between Thelma and Anja (Kaya Wilkins). We witness Thelma’s blushing and uneasiness, and soon birds are crashing into the windows as Thelma writhes on the floor in full seizure. The girls cross paths again and the flirtations are followed by a heavy dose of Thelma prayers. This independence and sexual attractions leads Thelma down the ever-progressive road of dancing, booze, drugs (sort of), and sex – the only thing missing is rock ‘n roll. An awkward dinner with her parents (Ellen Dorrit Peterson and Henrik Rafelsen) leads to more guilt and more seizures, as the two appear connected.
Director Trier’s film is not easily categorized. It’s part drama, thriller, romance, supernatural horror, and religious commentary. There are some supernatural similarities to two films from the 1970’s – CARRIE and THE FURY, and the abundance of religious imagery leans heavily towards the former.
Some unusual camera angles and shots add visual interest to what for much of its run time is an amorous courtship between the two leads. There is an always present cloak of uncertainty courtesy of the extreme helicopter parents and Thelma’s unpreparedness in dealing with adult feelings. We instinctively realize there’s more going on than the parents let on, but these are essentially quiet people who hold much inside. That theme carries over to the movie as a whole, which is a quiet, but sneaky film on the power of thought … both positive and negative.