Steve G 🇵🇸 🇾🇪’s review published on Letterboxd:
I can't be entirely sure just yet, but I think this might be brilliant.
The reason I can't really commit to saying whether it is or not is because there are a lot of thoughts that I need to piece together surrounding Thelma regarding how I really feel about it. I could sit on this review for a day or so but I also want to write something before I forget half of what I was going to say.
There's definitely something here, though. I could easily be swayed by the fact that Joachim Trier directed Oslo, August 31st, a film that instantly became one of the very best I've seen when I watched it, on top of the fact that I also thought very highly of Reprise too. Because I see he has form for brilliance, I'm more likely to believe that it could be present with Thelma.
The fact that I have a lot of questions about it is perhaps what's holding me back from really knowing what I really made of it. There's symbolism here that's either deliberately unobtainable or completely open to interpretation, and I'm in two minds as to whether it even needs to be here. There's a lot going on in Thelma aside from the central premise of a young woman with powers that she doesn't seem to quite understand herself, after all.
Trier really goes for the jugular regarding religion as a crutch for abuse and brainwashing. At one point the father, Henrik Rafaelsen, points out to Eili Harboe that she found god shortly after she unwittingly caused the death of her baby brother. A theme surrounding religion that I'd like to see more of in movies is the lack of choice children have when born into a religious family, that faith is assumed upon them, which in my opinion is a form of abuse in itself. Trier doesn't quite tackle this subject head-on but he certainly makes it clear what's going on here.
Much of what is here is linked directly to religion and faith. Harboe's desperation for a relationship with Kaya Wilkins, which she does eventually 'get', sees her held back not by a fear of her powers, because she's seemingly unaware of them at this point. The hooks of faith are still in here and she can't quite pull away - although perhaps in the case of the theatre scene, it was probably best that they were!
Trier asks the question, also, as to whether Harboe has earned the happiness she has at the end of the film as a result of what happened to her in her childhood. Although it's probable what Rafaelson says to her about it being something she alone created rather than Wilkins actually falling for her is true, does she deserve what she may or may not have created? Trier leaves enough doubt in the mind for the ending to pass as being somewhat ambiguous on that front, I think.
Like I say, there's enough here without the bird-based symbolism for you to be going on with in Thelma. That said, it adds a layer of mystery to a film where Trier doesn't actually hand any answers to us on a plate anyway. It's never specified exactly how Harboe's powers manifest themselves and also exactly what she can and can't do. It's also not always clear what is real and what isn't.
That's a huge part of what I enjoyed about it, in fact. That there's a lot to think about but also plenty to enjoy on a visual, narrative and performance front. I think it's certainly at its best when tackling faith and at its most disturbing when Harboe reveals having unwavering respect for her father despite what she reveals to Wilkins about him. Undercurrents rise steadily to the surface as Thelma moves on, making for a truly absorbing film right the way through.
I might not be able to decide just how good it was, but I know how much I enjoyed. A hell of a lot.