Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

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mfunk9786
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Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#1 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Oct 23, 2017 11:49 am

Joachim Trier's Thelma was my favorite film of 2017 for less than 24 hours (Varda's Faces Places will do that to you), but it remains an absolutely excellent one that could easily have me tossing out the "m" word if not for wanting to make it sound appealing to people here instead of something that is awash in unforgivable hyperbole. It has been compared to Carrie, but that's sort of like recent comparisons between Rosemary's Baby and mother! - one film is using a paintbrush while the other is using a roller. Which is not an indictment of Carrie, mind you - but there is so much thematic depth to Thelma that it seems almost unfair to throw it in with something that beats you over the head with its subtext, and so that'll be the last time I compare the two here.

Thelma opens with a brief and extremely unsettling scene that doesn't make a whole lot of sense for a solid half of its runtime, so much so that I sort of forgot about it until the story really began to unfold. This is a microcosm of what Trier does so beautifully throughout the film - he shows us something rather straightforward, usually of a celestial nature, and proceeds to move on from it without wasting much time ruminating either via his characters or via his editing on why what we just saw was so strange. There is a modest, layered approach to introducing unusual occurrences that is typical of this sort of Nordic filmmaking, but just under the surface is a thoughtfulness that doesn't usually emerge in movies centered around a supernatural conceit. So I don't have to continue to be vague, here are some open-ended worksheet-ish questions that've been rattling around in my head since leaving the film:
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1. Is Thelma's father's suggestion that Anja's attraction was the result of her unusual... "talent" accurate? Anja ends a relationship with a boy in order to focus her full attention on Thelma, after all... but the courtship feels believable and sincere throughout... so which is it?

2. Has Thelma's family always been religious, or have they just adopted religious faith in an effort to control Thelma's abilities? There is minimal (or no) religious imagery around their home, and in flashbacks there is no indication that these are strict Christians prior to the death of Thelma's brother.

3. Does Thelma's father deserve to die? What would you do differently if you were him to try to control this situation and its potentially fatal impact on other people?

4. Do you suspect that Thelma was involved in her mother's becoming crippled? Are you glad we were spared that flashback if so?
That is just the beginning of a multitude of subtle, "less is more" elements in Thelma that add up to an impeccably rich and rewatchable experience that takes what is a relatively tired concept and breathes beautiful life back into it. The film looks absolutely gorgeous, the performances (particularly Eili Harboe in the lead, who feels like she was just plucked out of a Copenhagen college cafe and put directly onscreen) are all impeccable, and as I've been bloviating about throughout this post, there is not a hair out of place from a narrative perspective. Especially considering the plotholes that Trier and Eskil Vogt could have written themselves into, this is no small feat.

A must-see film and one of the best of the decade. Hopefully this can occupy the space of one of those forum favorites (we all know what those are) in the future if you all take my recommendation and get out to see it. Looks like it'll be released theatrically by The Orchard next month.

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Re: The Films of 2017

#2 Post by swo17 » Mon Oct 23, 2017 11:55 am

Eh, can't be that great if you didn't even give it a dedicated thread.

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Re: The Films of 2017

#3 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Oct 23, 2017 11:56 am

I want to! But more people have to talk about it first. Or is this...................................... is this the talking?

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#4 Post by dda1996a » Mon Oct 23, 2017 5:20 pm

I rather like Carrie... I've been Trier's fan since Oslo and Louder Than Bombs was also wonderful so this is reassuring. Also Trier's interview on Criterion was also delightful for those who missed it

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#5 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Oct 23, 2017 5:21 pm

Carrie is a pretty great film, but its aims are much different than Thelma's despite some loose thematic similarities

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#6 Post by JamesF » Tue Oct 24, 2017 5:48 am

Sorry to lower the tone with a shameless plug, but: out in the UK on November 3rd via Thunderbird Releasing

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#7 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Oct 24, 2017 10:36 am

JamesF wrote:Sorry to lower the tone with a shameless plug, but: out in the UK on November 3rd via Thunderbird Releasing
Nothing wrong with giving people information that helps them see this movie (or any movie), still very on topic. And high tone!

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#8 Post by Black Hat » Fri Oct 27, 2017 10:51 am

I'm somewhat taken aback by your strong praise for this. It's not to say I thought it was trash, but I thought it was a bit silly and hence forgettable but I'll certainly revisit it to see if there was something I missed.
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1 - That seems to be what the film's about - the role religion plays in discriminating against others. The dad seemed to me to be using 'God' to guilt her or rationalize what he can't accept as being natural. This also plays into her being 'supernatural'.
2 - They're a religious family, I think they were raised to be that way. The story would lose a lot of its luster if it wasn't the case.
3 - This is where I bailed on this film. First because it was telegraphed, second because it looked ridiculous and third that whole part from when she moved back home to the pills didn't make a whole lot of sense.
4 - I thought this was pretty obvious and really no need to expand upon... like you couldn't flashback to the baby and this.

the baby sequence was i felt the best part of the movie, I wish there was more about that
I think ultimately this is the kind of movie where if you buy in you'll get a lot out of it. I hit eject.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#9 Post by mfunk9786 » Fri Oct 27, 2017 12:22 pm

I would discuss it with you further, but it doesn't sound like you're even making an effort to give the film much credit for the layers it contains - not like you need to even like the film - but if every data point here is met with "well, that's ridiculous" or "well, that's obvious," then I'm not sure if it's a good fit for you just from a personality perspective, because it seems like you're only affording its plot points one dimension each instead of considering that perhaps the whole idea of this film is that there are several possible explanations for a number of its elements. To say that
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The film's about religion
is like saying that a cake is about flour. You said it yourself - it does indeed seem like you just hit eject.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#10 Post by Black Hat » Fri Oct 27, 2017 1:09 pm

Hey I gave answering your questions a shot, sorry you found my answers to be unfulfilling, but you're right it's not a film that appeals to my sensibilities. However I reject the suggestion that one has to make an 'effort to give the film much credit for the layers it contains'. To piggy back on your food analogy the best films are like devouring an amazing dish with all kinds of savory, delicious flavors to chew on. Does appreciating that take much effort? Another way to say it is I don't think the film had as many layers to it as you do or was particularly successful when it tried to go there. It's more worthy of one of Time Out magazine's picks of the week than a place in the Michelin Guide.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#11 Post by mfunk9786 » Fri Oct 27, 2017 11:30 pm

First off, despite the fact that I don’t mind engaging on them in good faith, they were meant rhetorically as my attempt to demonstrate some of the ways in which the film doesn’t answer its own open-ended questions. And I think you may have lost the plot a bit re: the food thing but I will continue to respect your dislike of the film from a distance instead of digging in on this any further.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#12 Post by Black Hat » Sat Oct 28, 2017 6:48 am

How Thelma's dad of you. ;)

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#13 Post by franco » Mon Oct 30, 2017 7:49 pm

I also found Thelma to be my favorite film of 2017 before it was replaced by Valeska Grisebach's Western. Here are my brief thoughts related to mfunk's rattling questions:
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1. I personally agree with the father that Anja's attraction to Thelma is entirely caused by her superpower. The "courtship" on Anja's part doesn't begin until Thelma's desire for Anja intensifies while sleeping alone in bed. The natural strength of sexual longing causes Thelma's power to be used in full force.

2. To me, it's clear that Thelma's family adopts a religion in order to control Thelma's desires. It's a common theme among popular religions that to want something is a sin. Thelma's powers are triggered when she wants something, so religion becomes the best source of self discipline. During many parts in the film, Thelma chastises herself when she realizes that she has desire for something which she is not supposed to have a desire for. I also believe that at some point, one of the parents says that religion is the answer for keeping Thelma's powers in control.

3. I don't think the father deserves to die, but he also tries to control a power greater than himself. If I were him, I'd leave the lovely daughter alone, and watch the world burn. I also personally can't feel sympathy for him, for his self-righteousness, and for what he has allegedly done to his mother (or mother in law?).

4. I believe the mother's crippled leg is entirely caused by her suicide attempt. I don't recall any indication for Thelma's involvement.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#14 Post by Brian C » Sat Nov 25, 2017 12:16 pm

I enjoyed this, too. And one of the things I really enjoyed was going into the theater completely cold on what this was about. I only knew that Trier had directed it (from the thread title here, I think), and I had seen the poster, but hadn't seen a trailer or even read a plot summary. I wish I could see more movies like that, but it's really difficult in this day and age.

Anyway, while mfunk apparently intended his questions to be rhetorical, I think they provide a good framework for discussing the film, so I'll take a shot:
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1. This is an interesting question and one that I had been wondering about too. And I think the answer is maybe that Anja's attraction is both real and influenced by Thelma. There's a definite implication that Anja is "drawn" to Thelma by a force other than Anja's own will - Anja goes to Thelma's place in that almost zombie-like trance, apparently without knowing where she lived - but at the same time, I don't recall any other suggestion in the film that one of Thelma's powers is "inception", so to speak.

It's telling, perhaps, that until the very end (when she heals her mom), Thelma's use of her powers as an adult are all basically subconsciously exercised. She attempts to control the world around her, but her outbursts are physical manifestations of various kinds, and not goofy Jedi mind tricks. She doesn't seem to be able to mentally manipulate her parents into doing what she wants even as a child when it seems she can consciously exercise her powers.

I guess, in the end, that I took Trond's suggestion that Thelma made the attraction happen as a simple guilt trip. She can draw Anja in similar to how the birds are drawn to her and fly into the window. But I don't see any reason to think that she makes the crows choose to fly into the window, if that makes sense.

All that said, the very last shot of the film rubbed me the wrong way. Anja has returned and the two are happy together like nothing ever happened. It seemed abrupt, and by all-but-denying the strangeness of what's come before, it broke the film's spell for me. Where did Anja go when she disappeared? Did she have any memory of it or comprehension that something had happened? Is she afraid of Thelma? God knows she ought to be. But by completely side-stepping any consequence to her, or to her relationship with Thelma, the film does deny her personhood in a way, and maybe could lead one to conclude that she was not a person with free will. It's an almost stepford moment that ends a film that is too good for that.

2. This is also an interesting question ... Trond tells her that she stopped using her powers when she "found God" as a child. I wonder how that line translates in context in the original Norwegian. It's definitely true-believer language in an American context.

I also like the scene early in the film where he upbraids her for looking down on creationists. Was she needling them on purpose, or simply speaking thoughtlessly off the cuff? Either way, I got the feeling that, regardless of when the family picked up religion, Trond at least was completely sincere in his belief.

3. I don't like the idea of "deserve to die", I think that bar has to be set extremely high. But I think the movie makes its case from a character standpoint that Thelma's anger with him had just grown too great to contain. The turning point, I suppose, is his treatment of her grandmother, which fairly or not, she clearly thinks is a sin that he has to pay for. The manner of his death, of course, is highly symbolic - the flames mirror her earlier story of how he put her hand by the fire as a demonstration of the pain of hell. I didn't see a lot of justice in it myself, but I understood it as her ultimate rejection of him and his religious control of her.

4. Like franco in this thread, I assumed this was pretty straightforwardly a result of her suicide attempt.

The most interesting thing about her character, to me, is that she seems more fearful and hostile towards Thelma than Trond. It's the mom, after all, who argues that Thelma is beyond redemption and argues for killing, and I think one can reasonably presume that she is the impetus behind that opening scene where Trond considers shooting Thelma as a child. It's Trond that seems determined to "save" her, in multiple senses of the term. And yet, Trond is condemned to the fire of hell while Thelma completely absolves her mom by healing her. I wonder what her mindset is at the close of the film - perhaps it's a weakness of the film that it leaves her in a state of confused disbelief when maybe she deserves a little more, one way or the other.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#15 Post by mfunk9786 » Sat Nov 25, 2017 11:06 pm

Brian (and Franco), I so enjoyed reading your answers to those questions! And I agree that they aren't entirely rhetorical, but they certainly weren't my attempt at trying to corner anyone into thinking too deeply about a film they despised, more that they were floating around in my head and I still am not sure I can answer them entirely - which is the mark of a very good film in my book. Maybe rhetorical wasn't the best choice of words - but I do think they don't have correct answers. Except maybe 4, you guys are probably right, but I still couldn't help but wonder about more of the specifics surrounding all of that.

Anyway, more regarding religion:
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It's interesting that you bring up Trond's scolding of Thelma for feeling intellectually superior to creationists earlier on in the film. If anything, I took it as evidence that perhaps Trond was trying to tightrope walk between firm religious belief (in Thelma, to control her) and an intellectual foundation (to eventually be able to send her off into the world knowing that she'd be supported by her own competency. In other words - she was not taught some of the more extreme tenants of Christianity despite their hope that she'd remain extremely faithful to her religion for practical reasons. And perhaps her offhand comment about creationists just triggered a fear in him that perhaps she was slipping too far to the intellectual side of this tightrope. I still, I suppose for the record, do not believe that Trond is a particularly religious man, but that he found it a useful tool in this circumstance, and adopted it as a method to control Thelma. But it's pretty easy to read the film both ways, maybe even easier to indeed regard her family as a very Christian one. It's just a feeling I got, and one I look forward to mulling over next time I'm able to see this.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#16 Post by knives » Wed Aug 08, 2018 10:48 am

I'll be another one to say this worked incredibly well for me. After the lame and inert drama of Louder than Bombs it is great to find out Trier is capable of taking such familiar territory and turning it into something so great. It simultaneously feel universal to the moment and very specific to the realities of Norway. This doesn't do the usual stuff, e.g. Carrie, with its premise showing how that in the west is an outdated model of what repression and religious conflict are. Instead it is almost closer to Barton Fink which weirdly is where our emotional moment is.
What I especially liked vis a vis its treatment of religion in a western context is how background it is with just the smallest of symbols being the flag. This is probably in part because of that striped down Scandinavian Protestantism, but the lack of crosses, except a necklace, and Jesus posters and what not help to contextualize this as an era where faith in a religion whose laws you don't understand are being superseded by science whose workings you don't understand (the radiation scene clearly isn't trying out a defense of religion, but instead in a weird overlap with It's Always Sunny showing that the layman still has a great deal of ignorance in his supposed rationality). This relationship between religion and science also helps to highlight how the film, as Mfunk said, not about religion as any force of cognitive dissonance, the real main theme, which leads into conflict rather than reflection could be used here.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#17 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Aug 08, 2018 11:26 am

Great write-up, knives. You got my enthusiasm up for this one yet again so I did some looking into its current life on home video, and it's pretty grim. No Blu-ray release in the US, and a Region B-locked one in the UK. There are 1080p digital copies on most streaming platforms, and it's currently free to stream if you have a Hulu subscription. No UHD release, digital or physical, anywhere worldwide. Bummer!

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#18 Post by domino harvey » Wed Aug 08, 2018 11:34 am

You're not region free?

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#19 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Aug 08, 2018 11:38 am

Not in my living room anymore. The failing (sad!) LG Blu-ray player has been relegated to the bedroom until/unless there's a good replacement option out there that supports UHD or is very cheap, I just can't justify buying another modded Blu-ray only player at this point. I want to say I got my current one from Bombay Electronics, and they had touted a lifetime warranty on it, but when I contacted them about its scattershot reading of discs they said the warranty was only for the mod chip.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#20 Post by DarkImbecile » Wed Aug 08, 2018 1:38 pm

I've been meaning to watch this again as well to see if I could better articulate why it worked so well for me; the imagery is fantastic, but I think as knives notes it's the combination of thematic universality (religion, sexuality, youth, independence, disability) and specificity in its details that make it work as well as it does.

The scene where Thelma gets "high" with the other students is a showstopper that has stuck with me all year; it hits acutely on some of the key anxieties and ecstasies of young adulthood and burgeoning self-awareness, while also featuring maybe the single image most burned into my mind from the films of 2017* (maybe NSFW):
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Image
*Now that I think about it, Thelma might be responsible for half of my top ten of that list of most striking images.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#21 Post by Persona » Wed Aug 08, 2018 2:25 pm

I can appreciate some of the aspects of this film but I think, ultimately, it doesn't really work for me because it has very little genre functionality as a horror or a thriller and as a drama it falls flat because Thelma is the only character worth a damn. I can appreciate the conceptual stretch of a Carrie-like paradigm into some new/modern thematic terrain, but I guess I find your guys' discussion of that here far more interesting than how I personally engaged with the film's approach, as I felt it a bit slipshod and discombobulated on that level, but maybe that's just me not really making enough effort to bring the threads together. But hard to do when a film doesn't really grab you on an intuitive level, you know.

There are some great moments of imagery, though, particularly in the "high" scene that DarkImbecile mentions and towards the end. Also thought that scene where they are taking in that performance and the chandelier starts to sway, that was some very nice editing and scene construction (but unfortunately let down a bit by the scene immediately after--the characters/performances are just too flat or one-dimensional for me).

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#22 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Aug 09, 2018 11:01 am

I'm glad the film has its roots in reality and doesn't go fully in the direction of any of its genre threads. It made the moments when it does take risks feel more impactful, for me anyway. Because presumably most people will go into it having no idea where it's headed, and it earns any flirtations it has with science fiction, horror, and so on by being so sincere. If it were playing games with the audience I would have a lot less patience for it.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#23 Post by JamesF » Thu Aug 09, 2018 11:05 am

mfunk9786 wrote:
Wed Aug 08, 2018 11:26 am
No UHD release, digital or physical, anywhere worldwide. Bummer!
Just to note on this point that I'm fairly certain the film was only finished at 2K; certainly Thunderbird weren't offered any 4K materials as we were preparing to release it.

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Re: Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

#24 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:59 pm

Ordering your Blu-ray would be ideal, just have to figure out my region flexibility first. Wishing someone would just figure out a workaround for the PS4 or Xbox One already...


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