Joachim Trier (Norway, 1974) debuted with
Reprise (2006), a psychological drama that studies two different
kinds of depression, but one the mirror image of the other.
Two young friends, Erik and Phillip, mail their first manuscripts.
The film shows what their life would be should they
become successful writers. They would split, go through different life
episodes, and then meet again by chance at a metro station, maybe while
accidentally writing the same book.
Instead only Phillip's book is accepted and published.
Six months later, however, it is Phillip who is in trouble: Erik
and other friends pick him up at
a psychiatric hospital, where he just recovered
from what appears to be a suicide attempt.
They stop by the sea, where Phillip has fond memories.
Erik now has a girlfriend, Lillian.
At home Phillip realizes that his mother has destroyed all the pictures
of his ex-girlfriend Kari, and we understand that his psychological troubles
are related to the girl: the doctor told them to make sure that he is not
reminded of Kari.
But just a dark hair is enough to remind Phillip of their
love story, like the time when he was hit by a car, luckily with no injuries.
After that accident, however, Phillip's mind didn't seem to work as well
Nonetheless, Phillip meets Kari at a cafe and they start seeing each other
Kari tells him that she was advised not to visit him at the hospital.
Meanwhile, Erik's manuscript is accepted by a publisher, and Erik plans to
dump his girlfriend Lillian, a mean action that reminds him of when his
mother caught him watching porno pictures on a computer when he was still
The publisher wants Erik to change the title of the book but the publisher's
assistant, Johanne, defends Erik.
We learn that both Phillip and Erik were influenced by a
reclusive writer, Sten Dahl, who won a Nobel Prize but then disappeared.
Johanne joins Erik and his usual friends at the sea, but is quickly disgusted
by their superficial jokes and gossip. Erik is worried when he learns that
Phillip is again with Kari. Phillip tells Kari that he doesn't want to write
anymore. Erik meets Sten Dahl at a party but is rudely interrupted by a boring
friend, Mathis. Erik finds Phillip listening to loud television and not
willing to talk. Phillip buys an air ticket to Paris for Kari: he wants to
travel back where they originally fell in love.
She accepts and Phillip forces her to re-live their first vacation there,
day by day. He takes the pictures of her that remind him of what happened
back then to the poin that she becomes uncomfortable. He also takes the habit
of counting from ten to zero. Kari feels that Phillip does not love her
anymore and they break up again.
Erik book comes out and it's about madness.
Erik keeps neglecting Lillian and one day Lillian shows up angry and dumps him.
Phillip counts down from ten to zero while he rides a bicycle at high speed
and closes his eyes. Phillip finally writes something and shows it to Erik,
but Erik criticizes it. Phillip agrees and loses confidence. Erik, angry at
himself, kicks a number of cars and one of the owners punches him in the face.
He is later attacked by a dog in a park. The man who rescues him, the owner
of the dog, is Sten Dahl
in person, who admits that he read his book and liked it.
Erik decides to leave town.
Phillip is walking on the rails of the tram and counting from ten to zero.
He takes the elevator and enters Kari's office, embarrassing her in front
of her coworkers: first he tells her that he loves her and then he collapses
on the floor when Kari replies angrily that she can't take this anymore.
Erik visits Philip at the hospital.
The film now shows up what would have happened to Erik had he left the country
as he planned to. He would have written his second novel abroad and maybe
would have met Phillip again at a wedding, learning from Phillip that their
idol Sten Dahl killed himself. Phillip and Kari meet at a cafe. Phillip
begins his countdown but this time Kari stops him and the film ends.
Oslo August 31st (2011), a story adapted from Pierre Drieu La Rochelle's novella "Le Feu Follet/ Will O' the Wisp" (1931),
is a bleak existentialist drama that takes place in less than two days.
The story focuses on the drug addict who can't find meaning in life but nobody
in the film seems to be happy.
The camera shows an empty city and a home-made video.
We hear the voiceovers of a
man and a woman who remember their childhood.
They have never seen each other after parting.
A man wakes up next to a woman and walks out.
The man walks along the freeway, then into the countryside,
wandering into a wood until he reaches the shore of a lake.
He fills his pockets with stones and
picks up a heavy stone and walks into the water, obviously
trying to kill himself.
But then he can't carry it out and walks back to shore,
coughing. Then he walks back to a building,
which turns out to be a rehab clinic.
Anders is one of the former drug addicts who is hospitalized there.
He doesn't tell the doctor the truth.
The doctor authorizes him to take a trip to the city
for a job interview.
He visits his friend
Thomas, who is now happily married with Rebekka and has two children.
Thomas used to party with Anders when he was single.
Anders tells Thomas that he met his old girlfriend Malin,
and was disappointed. Thomas talks about Anders' parents,
and Anders tells him that they had to sell the house
to pay for his troubles.
Anders tells him that he is on his way to a job interview and then
has to meet his sister Nina.
He dismisses the interview as just part of he rehab program.
Anders and Thomas take a walk in the park and chat on a bench.
Anders mentions Iselin, a girlfriend that Thomas really loved,
but Anders even blames her for his addiction.
Anders is desperate that he has nothing and tells
Thomas that he has suicidal thoughts.
Anders thinks that Thomas and his wife are happy,
but Thomas tells him that marriage life is boring and he hasn't
had sex with his wife in a long time.
Anders leaves Thomas and walks towards his job interview,
but then dials the number of Iselin. She doesn't pick up and he
leaves a message to call him back.
He walks into the interview with the magazine's owner who is
looking for an assistant editor. The owner asks him why he stopped
writing for so long and Anders, pressured, confesses that he was
a drug addict.
He ironically asks if he should put it in the resume.
He loses his motivation and walks out.
He walks to a cafe and
listens to the casual conversations of the others in the cafe,
mundane events of people who live in the real city, not in a rehab center.
Then he walks to the restaurant where he is supposed to meet
his sister Nina,
but instead Nina's girlfriend Tove shows up.
She has the home keys and and offers to take him to the family's home.
Nina didn't come because she doesn't feel comfortable with him,
and because he flaked out on her the day before.
Anders takes the keys, insists on paying the bill with the little money
he has, and leaves alone.
He walks around the city but not to his family' home
He remembers what his parents taught him.
He walks to Mirjam's birthday party thinking that Thomas and wife would come,
but they never show up. He runs into old friends.
Mirjam looks bored. She has been dating her boyfriend Calle for nine years
and they still have no children.
She tells him that for a woman it's harder to age because she sees all the
guys of her age dating much younger girls, and most of the old friends of
her age group are married with children.
She can still hang out only with a couple of those who remained single
She feels there is someting wrong with her.
He kisses her on the mouth which makes her uncomfortable.
He calls Iselin again and leaves a long message
until he's cut out by the answering machine.
He steals money from Mirjam's room and leaves.
Anders visits his old drug dealer and buys heroin.
He walks into a bar and meets a friend who is flirting with two female students.
Anders chats with one of them, a medical student.
He tells her he's just a loser. As they are walking out, he recognizes the
man who stole Iselin from him, and tells him that he forgives him,
But the man responds harshly that he despises him for treating Iselin
Anders follows the friend and the girls to a dance club where they drink
alcohol (which he is not supposed to drink). He makes out with the medical
They walk to a swimming pool and realize that it is past midnight, therefore
it is August 31 and the pool will be drained the following day.
The friend and the two girls strip almost naked and jump in the pool,
but Anders remains outside staring motionless at them.
The medical student invites him in vain.
At sunrise he walks to his family' home.
Nobody is inside and the home is a mess because they already started to pack.
He calls Iselin again, this time to tell her to forget the previous messages.
He plays the piano, then he walks into a bedroom and
takes the heroin that he bought and passes out.
Louder Than Bombs (2015) is a disappointing Hollywood-ian family melodrama.
Thelma (2017), a major departure in his career, is a supernatural thriller in the vein of Brian DePalma with Freudian overtones.
The film is many films in one.
The protagonist climbs a ladder of sins, from erotic shock to erotic shock,
each time being both attracted and repulsed.
The seizures begin when the protagonist eyes an attractive stranger,
and seem to end when not only she accepts her attraction but even
physically manufactures it with her supernatural powers.
The film is drenched in religious symbolism, like the snake that enters her mouth when she walks into the lake, or the miracle of healing her mother, or the father who thinks that God wants him to kill his child.
The story can be understood as a parable of parents who traumatized their child
with their religious paranoia:
the father (who never sinned) is the one who ends up burning in hell,
while the daughter (whom he forced to repent for her sins) lives happily with her lover.
A father and his little daughter walk on an icy lake. The girl sees her
reflection in the ice. The father carries a rifle. They are hunting a deer.
He aims at the deer and the girl expects to hear the shot. Instead the
father aims at the back of her head... but then he can't find the courage
to pull the trigger.
The sexual blossoming of the innocent child causes a cosmic conflagration,
a veritable time travel in which the universe gets rearranged by her.
We understand only at the end why the father wanted to kill his child. But even the father has missed the real Satanic importance of his daughter: she has become capable of performing miracles like Jesus and of creating reality, way beyond the ability to kill people (she heals her mother, she resurrects her lover, she dreams of her lover kissing her and the lover materializes and kisses her).
By accepting her "sinning", she learns how to control her supernatural power
to do not only evil but also good: she becomes a saint by accepting her sinning.
The camera zooms out at the beginning and at the end to give us a sense that "they" can be among us, looking like the other millions of ordinary people.
Years later, the camera zooms from the sky into a busy square and eventually
focuses on a girl. She walks into a classroom and attends a class.
When she gets home, her mom calls her on her cell phone. Her parents
live in a remote countryside home, and her mom is confined to a wheelchair.
Thelma studies in a library. Anja sits next to her. A bird crashes into
a window and Thelma has an epileptic seizure. That night at home Thelma
dreams of a snake. The following day Anja approaches her at the swimming
pool. Thelma has dinner with her parents. Her father gets upset when she
makes fun of someone who believes in the biblical account of the creation.
She apologizes. She tells him that she is lonely. One night she joins the
other students at a bar. She tells them that she doesn't drink alcohol
for religious reasons. She argues with a boy who makes fun of her religion.
She dances with Anja till late and misses her father's daily phone call.
Then she can't fall asleep. She keeps thinking of Anja and then suddenly
she senses that Anja is downstairs: she really is. Thelma walks downstairs
and her another seizure in front of Anja. Anja walks her back to the
apartment and they sleep in Thelma's bed. The following morning Anja admits
that she doesn't know how she came to Thelma's apartment, but she was drunk
and doesn't remember much of the evening. They become best friends.
Anja has a father who lives abroad and has lots of children from different
marriages. Anja begins to corrupt Thelma: alcohol, cigarettes, blasphemous
talk... Anja's mom invites Thelma to a ballet performance. During the
performance Anja starts touching Thelma's leg. Thelma is about to get
another seizure and walks out. Anja follows her and kisses her on the mouth.
Thelma reciprocates but then runs away. At home she prays to be forgiven
for the sin. When her father calls, she confesses that she drank alcohol.
When she meets Anja again, Anja is upset that Thelma never returned her calls.
Thelma makes Anja jealous of a boy. Then the boy pretends to be smoking
weeds and offers the cigarette to Thelma, who smokes and has an erotic nightmare
in which a snake enters her mouth. When she wakes up, they tell her that it
was just a joke: the cigarette only contained tobacco. Thelma vomits and leaves
them. The doctors administer a brain scan. The doctors also find out that
her medical record documents a seizure when she was a child, but she doesn't
A flashback shows what happened. Her mother was feeding Thelma's baby brother.
Thelma was annoyed by his crying and focused her mind on him until he was
catapulted under a couch.
Back to the hospital, the doctors try to induce a seizure and measure the
brain waves. During the seizure, Thelma mentally enters Anja's apartment
and turns on the music. When Anja enters the apartment physically, she is
puzzled to find the music playing. Then a force pulls Anja towards the window
and Anja... disappears in an explosion. The doctors determine that Thelma
is not having epileptic seizures. They are of a different kind, probably
caused by a trauma or stress. The doctors also reveal to Thelma that her
granma is alive and lives in a mental asylum: Thelma was told that granma
died years earlier. Thelma takes the train and visits granma, who is
unconscious. The nurse implies that her granma's condition was worsened by powerful drugs administered by her father.
The nurse tells her why granma is considered mad: her granma is convinced
that she has the mental power to make things happen and in particular that she
made her husband (Thelma's granpa) disappear. In fact, his body was never found.
After another seizure in the swimming pool that almost causes her to drown,
Thelma enters Anja's apartment and finds Anja's hair stuck in the window.
Thelma calls her mom and tells her that she feels she has made Anja disappear.
She moves in with the parents and her father begins administering a powerful
drug and locking her in a room. They tell her that they know what happened
to her. They make her pray to God.
Another flashback shows what she did as a child: she made the baby disappear.
Then she indicated to her father where the baby was: buried under the ice of the lake.
The mother tried to jump from a bridge and was left a cripple in a wheelchair.
She tells her father that she loved Anja. While she is sedated, the parents discuss what to do. Her mother wants her father to kill her to avoid that she
kills again. Thelma tells her father that she knows about granma and guesses
that her father is doing to her what he did to granma: sedate her to make
her mind powerless. While she is asleep, her father takes the boat.
Her mind causes him to catch fire and burn alive. She wakes up knowing
exactly what happened. She walks into the lake and swims in vain.
She dreams of Anja at the pool and of kissing her.
She doesn't see that her phone is receiving a call from Anja, a sign that
Anja is alive (the camera zooms into a drawer to show the incoming call).
Thelma walks calmly into the house, where her mother is panicking that her
husband has disappeared. Thelma touches her mother and then walks out:
her mother starts walking.
Back to school, she dreams of Anja kissing her and, sure enough, Anja appears
and kisses her. They walk away happy. The camera zooms out showing a lot
of people walking in the busy square.
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