Review by Bears Fonte
THELMA slowly builds it’s undercurrent of unsettling moral decision-making as our title character faces a world that her religious background has not prepared her for. At the heart of the conflict of the film is the very question of choice itself and whether with Thelma such a concept even exists. But it’s two-thirds of the way through the film when you truly understand who and what Thelma might be, so for much of the film you are trapped like her, not knowing why things are happening. The film opens with an unbelievably strong image of a young girl out in the woods with her father, and the father slowly raising his rifle behind her as if to end her life peacefully. However, he hesitates and is unable to make the choice that he knows is the best for everyone in the long run.
Although Thelma is troubled by their condemnation she does slowly begin to slip into what appears to be a natural life for young girl at college, making a friend named Anya and going to parties where she drinks her first alcohol. But as she does this, other strange things seem to be happening around her. A bird makes a suicide flight into a window at the library where she is studying right after meeting Anya, causing(?) Thelma to have a seizure. Another night she is thinking of Anya scrolling through her Facebook page when Anya shows up outside her window. This elicits another seizure and Thelma begins to believe she has epilepsy although doctors can find no sign of it.
As Thelma and Anya’s relationship becomes more than a friendship, Thelma’s seizures increase and her doctor reveals that she had seizures when she was 6 and had been given medication by her father who was a doctor. She also learns that she has a grandmother who’s been in a mental hospital in a coma with a similar condition, a psychosomatic epilepsy that is often misunderstood as possession. Reconciling her feelings for Anya with her Christian upbringing becomes difficult for Thelma. Her father tells her she doesn’t love Anya she was just lonely and that she needs to stop. It’s a heartbreaking moment seen in many LGBTQ coming-of-age stories and Thelma tries to push her feelings away. Unfortunately for Anya this film is not a coming-of-age LGBTQ film, and when Thelma wishes away her feelings, she also wishes away Anya – Anya just completely disappears.
Look – I love this movie. Its so subtle in its perversion of the idea of a villain. It clearly was written by someone who understands Hollywood structure and can manipulate an audience with delicacy. Eili Harboe gives a strong performance as the title character – which is pretty exciting because she was amazing in THE WAVE – look for her to cross over into English language film soon if there is any justice in the world. Writer/director Joachim Trier keep a determined pace, slowly building the tension and emotional resonance until it all comes crashing down in Scandinavian despair. But it all goes back to this script. If the Suicide Squad needs a new stand-in, look no further than Thelma.
THELMA made its Texas Premiere at Fantastic Fest last week.