Joachim Trier

Best films:
, /10

Joachim Trier (Norway, 1974)

Reprise (2006)

Oslo August 31st (2011)

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.
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.

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.

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 remember.

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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