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The Norwegian poster.
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Thelma is a 2017 Norwegian film directed and co-written by Joachim Trier.

A shy, devout Christian, Thelma (Eili Harboe) struggles with a mutual attraction to her friend Anja (Kaya Wilkins). However, when a deep and disturbing power begins to stir in Thelma, she needs to choose between her burgeoning sexuality and her strict upbringing.

Tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Thelma's dad burned her hand with a candle to show her what Hell would feel like forever all over her body. He and her mother had also been very controlling of her in general before she left home. However, much of it turns out to result from fear since Thelma inadvertently killed her little brother as a child.
  • Accidental Murder: Thelma unwittingly killed her little brother and father using her powers. She also possibly killed Anja, though temporarily in her case.
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  • Afraid of Their Own Strength: Justified and deconstructed in Thelma’s case since she doesn’t know how her power works and her parents’s influence over her caused her to repress it, especially when she was a child and it resulted to adverse effects such as making her little brother disappear and even causing his death. It’s deconstructed towards the end since this repression doesn’t allow her to realize her full potential and that her powers can actually be productive and allow her to live freely.
  • Allegory: For self-acceptance and being true to one’s self.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Anja is dating a guy at the start, then breaks up with him and grows attracted to Thelma. However, it's left unclear if she genuinely felt this way, or was compelled by Thelma's powers.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Anja has dark skin and seems like she might be part Black from her features. Her mother is White and we don't see her father, leaving it unknown if he's Black or not.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The Bittersweet Ending and exactly how much bitter and how much sweet it is.
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    • Is it a dream sequence?
    • It also plays very differently depending whether you think that Anja genuinely loved Thelma from the beginning or if Thelma actually compelled Anja to her.
    • In which case, does it show Thelma breaking free of her religious repression, realizing that she needs to be herself, and ending up happily, or does it show Thelma embracing the more monstrous side of her as she starts to exercise her power without fear, having either killed or silenced the only people who could stop her (her parents)?
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • When Thelma literally pushes Anja away and causes her disappearance, where does she go? If so, what does she (or any of the others around her) know about where she's been?
    • The largest one is definitely whether Anja loved Thelma from the beginning, or if Thelma compelled them together.
  • Anti-Hero: While Thelma isn’t necessarily unethical, she’s not a hero, a monster, or a victim. She’s none of those and all of those at once.
  • Back from the Dead: Thelma raises a dead bird from the dead, and later also restores Anja, who she vanished earlier.
  • Bathtub Scene: Thelma is shown topless while bathing at one point.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Thelma obsessively prayed to rid herself of her “impure” thoughts and for her desire to be gone. Since Anja is whom she desires, this caused her to disappear.
  • Beware the Nice Ones / Beware the Quiet Ones: Thelma is sweet, likable, and an adorable young lady but she is capable of erasing someone from existence or to put them somewhere, rendering that person to exist and not exist at the same time, physically displace them to less hospitable places, or to have them killed regardless of their proximity and for them to die in any way she imagines possible.
  • Blessed with Suck: Thelma has nigh-boundless psychokinetic powers but has no idea on how to control them and is too afraid of knowing how they work that she restrains every thought and feeling that she has which she deems as destructive or impure. This is subverted in the end of the movie when she embraces it and which can possibly qualify her as an Übermensch.
  • Bookends: The film begins with the screen zooming in on Thelma, and it ends with Thelma pulling the scene towards her, demonstrating that she’s zeroing in on her environment and that she can control it.
  • Brainwashed: Thelma is able to make people do things she wants (like arrive at her building and kiss her) by wishing it. She's appalled to realize this may be why Anja is attracted to her.
  • Brown Note: One of the rare occasions where it wasn’t stated for plot reasons and dramatic effect. The movie has a warning at the prologue advising viewers with epilepsy that the flickering lights in the forthcoming scenes could induce seizures and might trigger their symptoms.
  • Bungled Suicide: Thelma’s mom survived her suicide attempt but is left paralyzed. It’s indicated that she resents and blames Thelma for this.
  • Callback: Several recurring elements happen throughout the movie.
    • The crows and the ballet dancers dressed in black are reminiscent of them.
    • Trond laying Thelma’s hand over the candle flame and feeling the pain from it as he says that this is what Hell feels like. Nearing the end of the film, Trond is killed by having his hands first set on fire then it spreading all throughout his body.
    • The music in the morning after Anja stays in Thelma’s apartment was also playing in Anja’s room before she disappeared.
    • Oddly enough, the lake itself. All three generations of the males in their family have died in the lake. Her grandfather was last seen there, her little brother was trapped in the frozen lake, and her own father drowned there. This was reversed in the climactic scene where she swims in the lake and was able to find Anja.
  • Call-Forward: Thelma’s little brother who was killed under a frozen lake will foreshadow Thelma’s repressed internalized guilt as she was trapped in the pool, mirroring how her little brother was trapped.
  • Calling the Old Man Out / Rage Against the Heavens: Thelma telling God she’s now angry with him and her father after being forced to suppress herself once more and it causes her much suffering. Since Thelma sees God as an authority figure, she sees her father as the nearest person whom she can talk to on what God could want from her because of their influence through religion.
    Thelma: I’m angry with you God. Why are you doing this to me? What do you want? And I feel angry with dad as well. I’m not worth it. He has to stop, I can’t take it anymore.
  • Cassandra Truth: Thelma’s grandma says that she made her husband disappear and was subsequently confined to a mental hospital. Thelma’s father withheld this information from her and instead told her that her grandmother is dead.
  • Character Title: The film is named after the protagonist.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Subverted. Thelma's swimming appears to be this way when she realizes that her father is missing and jumps into the water to swim to him. As she's swimming, she appears to decide that Anja is more important to her, so she stops swimming and gets washed ashore.
  • Closet Key: Thelma discovers she's attracted to women by meeting Anja.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: A horror-filled version. Thelma leaves home for university, the first time she's out of her strict Christian parents' supervision, doing more adult things such as going to parties, drinking and becoming involved with another girl (against their beliefs). Along with that however she's coming to show extreme psychic powers, which Thelma cannot control at first. Breaking out into her own person (for better or worse), accepting her own sexuality and controlling these powers are main intertwined themes.
  • Daddy's Girl: Thelma tells Anja that she can talk about everything with her dad, which Anja is clearly a little disturbed by, but she also remembers him being abusive, so it is at least a dark version.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Thelma masturbates during her erotic dream about having sex with Anya.
  • Day Light Horror: Much of the terrifying scenes involving the outdoors happen during the day and are not shrouded in darkness which is a possible contrast to Dark Is Not Evil.
    • Thelma’s brother was found dead under the frozen lake at sunrise. Her father was almost burning to death and died by drowning in broad daylight.
    • The opening scene of the film shows a child walking with her father in the snow that is reminiscent of bonding moments. Then he turns his rifle towards her head.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Anja stalks Thelma and instantly drops most of her other friends and her boyfriend for Thelma. It then becomes much more meaningful when Tron suggests that Thelma had unknowingly guided Anja into that kind of obsessive attraction to her with her powers.
  • Disappeared Dad: Anja's father lives abroad and isn't in contact with her. She says they've only spoken ten times or so. This seems to be a pattern with him from what she says, and he has lots of kids though she doesn't think he likes children. Because of this, she can't imagine having a close relationship with her father like Thelma does.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Suggested. Thelma and Anja end up together. She has gained full mastery of her abilities even as they’re growing in range and intensity, but the true nature of the two women’s attraction to each other and the full extent of Thelma’s abilities and what she might become for better or for worse are open to interpretation.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: More than once Thelma stares when Anya's in a swimsuit and Little Black Dress, as she's quite the attractive young woman.
  • Familiar: The crows could be this for Thelma. Interestingly, the song at the club where Thelma and Anja are dancing is named “Familiar” by Agnes Obel.
  • Foil: Played with, and with the two seemingly polar opposites having a confluence in the final act.
    • Fire and water.
    • Anja wearing a black swimsuit and Thelma wearing a white nightdress and with the last swimming pool scene which is reminiscent of the yin yang symbol.
    • Urban and rural.
    • Natural bodies of water (Lake) and man-made (swimming pools).
    • Dark and light.
    • Purity (milk) and blood.
    • Faith and doubt.
    • Traditional male and traditional female displays in society.
  • Friends Are Chosen, Family Aren't: Played with throughout. Thelma's only friends are her parents until she goes to college and meets Anja. Anja herself has a very difficult relationship with her father, who abandoned her to live abroad.
  • Friendless Background: Thelma doesn’t have a lot of friends while growing up.
  • Gayngst: Thelma struggles very much with her feelings after she's attracted to Anja, kisses her and then has an erotic dream about them, as she was raised a conservative Christian. By the end of the film she's accepted her sexuality and dates Anja.
  • Gender-Restricted Ability: Thelma discovers that her paternal grandmother shared her powers. Her father doesn't though, implying they're only inherited by females.
  • Girliness Upgrade: Thelma attempts this with her wardrobe and by going out with Kristoff. It doesn’t end well.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Poor Thelma. She has experienced this several times throughout her life when one occasion has been proven too much for one lifetime, especially with her little brother and Anja.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The film doesn’t make a clear dichotomy on who’s right and who’s wrong since the characters make choices on what they think is right or best. Thelma’s parents who are emotionally distant but still care for her are still dealing with unresolved issues and have no idea on how to raise a child who is beyond their range of comprehension, while Thelma’s constantly at a dilemma on whether her thoughts and yearnings could be destructive to others even if it could benefit herself. There are no clear antagonists since the characters have an internal logic to their actions and even Thelma’s abilities aren’t necessarily good or bad in itself. Her power is as benevolent or destructive depending on how or why she uses it, and it’s still never that simple.
  • Healing Hands: Thelma cures her mother's paralysis near the end.
  • Homoerotic Dream: Thelma has one at a party of Anja having sex with her, confirming her growing attraction.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Fervently prayed for by Thelma—but she will never be which is for the better or worse.
  • In the Blood: Thelma’s grandmother has demonstrated that she has similar powers to her. Their abilities are also shown to be manifested in females only.
  • Insistent Terminology: A muted version. Trier demurs on calling Thelma’s powers as “powers”, he prefers to refer to them as abilities emphasizing that they’re just a part of who she is and are not to be assessed based on value judgements on whether they are a force for good or ill. The “abilities” are not good or bad in itself. It’s just a part of who Thelma is.
  • Irony
    • Having nigh-boundless psychic powers but studying the earthiest of the sciences: biology.
    • Thelma in the lab was doing her best to suppress her desire for Anja but her deep and quick breaths needed for her laboratory procedure is reminiscent of orgasm especially when she metaphorically levitates as she experiences bliss and peace as though coming from an afterglow.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: Thelma’s powers are shown to be inconsistent on-screen since she doesn’t know her own power or how it works since she spent much of the film suppressing them, thinking it would be better for everyone, and for being afraid of it herself.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Thelma is a quite feminine young woman who's attracted to her female classmate Anja. Meanwhile Anja too is a feminine woman and reciprocates her attraction, but may be bisexual as she's also shown dating a guy before. However, Anja's attraction to her may be induced by Thelma's powers.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Reconstructed in Thelma herself. While she is very lonely and isolated, the audience sees how her parents' repression and anxiety causes her to be that way, and Thelma herself is actually a very sweet person.
  • Longing Look: Anja in her black swimsuit and later little black dress inspires intense looks from Thelma, displaying her attraction to the other girl.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Played with, Anja’s music at her apartment has themes of realizing one’s full potential but meanwhile Thelma is in the lab suppressing her power and her desire for Anja, but this only caused her to actually experience the range of her power for the first time by being solely focused on removing her desire, and once she experiences it, this gives her a moment of peace.
  • Magical Queer: Deconstructed. While Thelma is magical and she is queer, her powers come not in the power of special wisdom or kindness, but in a terrifying vision of both liberation and anarchy due to her religious repression.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The ballet that Thelma went to along with Anja and her mom is about a child recognizing their autonomy and living a life outside of their parents’s influence.
  • Meaningful Name: Thelma (will), Brenn (burn).
  • Mind over Matter: Thelma is capable of moving objects, vanishing them, teleporting, levitating and starting fires with her mind. At first she can't control it, but can by the end of the film.
  • Morality Chain: Anja for Thelma, who is her anchor to the world and to her humanity. Thelma’s parents tried to be this for her and they had varying success with this initially but failed towards the end when their methods proved to be unhealthy for her.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Thelma, several times.
    • Thelma realizing that her father is dead.
    • Thelma finding Anja outside her apartment realizing that her desire to have Anja near her actually made Anja walk to her apartment. Thelma was visibly distressed over this.
    • Thelma remembering her repressed memory that she made her brother disappear.
  • No Antagonist: The film is about Thelma’s journey along with resolving her internal conflict. Even her parents, whose methods for raising her turn out to be unhealthy in the end, aren’t necessarily evil people but are doing their best to raise her well and to deal with the horrible situations that they went through in the past. Depending on your interpretation, the film could be about the birth of the ultimate powerful woman with a darker side who is about to embrace it.
  • Obliviously Evil: Multiple times Thelma harms or even kills people using her powers. However, she's never consciously malicious-it's always due to Power Incontinence, with her unconscious desires being manifested. She feels remorse and anxiety due to this (at first anyway).
  • Offing the Offspring: Thelma’s dad and mom, especially her dad, are morose over making the difficult decision to euthanize their daughter (they fail). Her dad also had previously considered shooting Thelma as a child when she'd inadvertently killed her little brother, but refrains.
  • Oh, Crap!: Thelma seeing Anja outside her apartment, much to her horror as she realized she'd summoned her.
  • Our Witches Are Different: Inverted by Joachim Trier. He’s commemorating the original Norwegian portrayal of witches as positive magical creatures before the influence of Christianity. If Thelma was born in a different time, her powers would classify her as a witch and possibly why these powers are only manifested in females.
  • Overprotective Dad: Thelma’s dad and mom regularly look over her schedule and he calls her every night to make sure that she eats or doesn’t give in to hedonistic practices. They may be protective and watch carefully over their daughter but they are shown to be emotionally distant.
  • Parents as People: Thelma’s parents are shown to be overprotective and it’s justified in their case, but Thelma is shown to be emotionally neglected by them and her parents are emotionally distant.
  • Patricide: Thelma was asleep when her father was killed in the lake. During the burgeoning of her powers but also because of repression, much of her psychokinesis happens when she’s dreaming. Her father was killed as his hands caught fire and it spread throughout his body. He would have burned to death but he resolved this by drowning himself in the lake instead. Upon realizing this as she woke up, Thelma was completely horrified then and remorseful over her father’s death.
  • Pool Scene: Thelma meets Anya the first time at the swimming pool, and is quite smitten by seeing her in a swimsuit. This serves as the first sign that she's a lesbian.
  • Power Incontinence: Thelma initially has no conscious control over her psychic powers, which are powerful enough to kill others if she's wished it. While by the finale she has gained control over them, it's not necessarily for good.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Deconstructed all over the place. Thelma has some terrifying powers and the ending possibly shows her embracing their Control Freak potential. Except...Thelma genuinely only wants to have friends and romantic connections, it's impossible not to sympathize with how lonely she is, and even if she did pull Anja towards her, she didn't do it knowingly. In fact, it's heavily implied that this is because of Thelma's sexual awakening - her lesbianism is just who she is.
  • Psychological Horror: With its themes of repression, existential dread, and fulfilling her potential and being true to her destiny while being put through the wringer many times, Thelma’s journey can qualify as this.
  • Queer Romance: Thelma feeling attracted to a woman and dealing with the fact, alongside her burgeoning psychic powers, is the main theme of the film.
  • Questionable Consent: It's left extremely dubious as to whether Anja is really attracted to Thelma, or she's been forced to (even if unconsciously) kiss her etc. with Thelma's psychic powers. It grows into potential horror at the end when they start to date, apparently, since by then Thelma might make them have sex-which if it's really compelled, is rape.
  • The Reveal: Thelma unintentionally killed her brother.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Sleight of Hand, the ballet, is about parental issues.
    • Joachim Trier alluded to religious imagery in some of the scenes such as Thelma in a white nightdress going to the lake which is reminiscent of the baptism of Christ in the Bible. Also, Thelma lying on the ground and looking up at the sky as she has gained mastery of her powers for the first time references the ascension of Christ in religious paintings.
  • Significant Birth Date: Thelma’s birthday is February 29. It happens once in four years, doesn’t happen often and Thelma is unique. Every year, her birthday is/isn’t; and on a non-leap year, the day before or after her actual birth date can still qualify as her birthday and it’s up to her. Thelma can make it so. It’s also suggesting a confluence of light and dark, being and nothingness, and unity of opposing elements, and possibly making someone exist and not exist at the same time, especially with what happened to Anja.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: A subtle one in the end. When Thelma leaves her parents’s house for good, she discontinues wearing her cross necklace.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: The film parallels the main character Thelma's discovery of her terrifying powers against her discovery of her sexuality as she falls in love with another woman. As this is modern Norway, it's all played much more discreetly and Closer to Earth than some variations on this trope.
  • Survival Mantra: Thelma’s prayers are meant as a cure for obsessive thoughts and to suppress her desires.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: Happens a few times in the film.
    • The song “Familiar” at club where Thelma and Anja are dancing is appropriate for the nature of their relationship.
    • The song “Mountaineers” which is played in the morning at Thelma’s apartment after Anja slept over and when it plays again in Anja’s apartment is an ironic and apt song to describe Thelma’s journey in the film.
  • Tears of Remorse:
    • Thelma upon realizing that her father’s dead and that she has caused it.
    • Thelma was guilt-ridden upon realizing that she compelled Anja to walk to her apartment. Wanting to be with Anja is something that she may have wished for but it doesn’t necessarily mean that she wanted it to be realized, especially if Anja didn’t do it of her own accord.
  • The Teetotaler: Thelma starts out as not drinking due to her strict Christian upbringing. She later does drink though and confesses this to her father. He says it's okay in moderation, and she's an adult now so it's up to her.
  • Thought-Controlled Power: To Thelma’s distress, but near the end of the film, to her empowerment. Thelma’s abilities require minimal effort since she can teleport people or objects and can alter her environment, among other things. As her power grows, she can teleport people or make others cease to exist without even looking at them or regardless of their proximity to her.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Due to Thelma's powers, her mother can walk again.
  • Tranquil Fury: Invoked with Thelma but possibly averted when she cures her mother’s paralysis.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Anja is the only character of color in the film, and (possibly) a bisexual woman.
  • Unflinching Walk: The film shows a triumphant example as Thelma leaves her parents’ house for good.
  • Villain Protagonist: Arguably against the author's will, who probably wanted to write a metaphor about old beliefs vs Christianity. But the result, oh dear... Everything here needs a spoiler, sorry.
    • When Thelma really, truly desires something, she can make that happen. What does she really desire?
      • To start with, when she is around six, to kill her newborn baby brother, who probably annoyed her with his crying here and there, in a gruesome way, and she makes him drown under an iced over lake.
      • Then to kill her father, who surely enough was repressive, but was like that only because he wanted to avoid seeing his daughter replicate what she did with her baby brother, and does so by burning him alive in the same lake where she killed her baby brother. And then makes a half-hearted try to find his body, giving up as soon as she remembers her hot lover (who she couldn't have, if she followed her father's decisions).
      • Of course, one could argue that most of the bad things happen when she is sleeping or without her knowing her powers, but, to start with, to truly want to kill your baby brother just because he annoys you is undoubtedly a mark of evil.
      • But, even more, we see the difference with what happens to Anja. Thelma kills her baby brother and her father, but "only" makes Anja disappear. Eventually Thelma can fix the last action, but is unable (or unwilling) to fix the others too. And she doesn't care to do it, either.
      • To put the cherry on the top, there is the chance that Thelma has (unconsciously) brainwashed the same Anja into loving her, and the movie ends with Thelma "calling back" Anja from where she was, and making out with her, without any remorse or worry about that possibility.
    • The only decent act Thelma does is to heal her mother.
  • Wham Line: Thelma's dad to her when she tells him about Anja:
    Trond: Did she ever love you? Or did you just want her so badly that you made it true?
  • Wham Shot: The repeat of Thelma in the swimming pool when she meets Anja for the first time, confirming that Thelma saw Anja first, rather than vice versa, as the first play of the scene showed. However, it still remains ambiguous if Thelma actually drew Anja to her or if their relationship was always real.

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