Strange things happen in Thelma, the horror thriller from director Joachim Trier. Thelma (Eili Harboe), who has been raised by very protective, devoutly Christian parents, goes off to university. Her parents are fearful of what might happen. All seems to be going well until one day when studying in the library, a bird crashes into a window, which somehow triggers a seizure in Thelma. After she recovers she begins a relationship with another woman student. But the seizures continue, seemingly without cause. The seizures occur around times when something strange takes place. As Thelma seeks to understand what is happening, her family’s past hold revelations about her giftedness.
While I’m not a fan of supernatural events in horror films, this film does an excellent job of building tension. This is a spooky story as it plays out. Little by little we see connections between what Thelma is going through, tragic events in her history, and the role Thelma plays in it all. While there is a supernatural foundation, the film is really about Thelma’s journey to self-discovery.
As I noted above, Thelma comes out of a devout Christian background. This is not an oppressive family. (Although it does seem to treat religion as somewhat exotic.) Thelma’s faith adds a bit of depth to the struggles she experiences. In fact, at one point her father suggests that the similar troubles she had in early childhood went away when she accepted Christ. But when the seizures and resulting events begin again, where is Thelma to turn? She prays, but it seems to make no difference.
In time it all comes down to what control Thelma has over her life. Can she take control, or do her seizures control her? How have the things in her past brought her to this point? How will she use the control she discovers for herself or for others?
Thelma is Norway’s official Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submission.