Known for such gorgeous, naturalistic independent films as Oslo, August 31st and Louder Than Bombs, critically lauded Norwegian director Joachim Trier made a significant, exciting stylistic departure with his latest feature, Thelma. Already selected as Norway’s Oscar play for Best Foreign Language Film, Thelma is both an intimate love story and a heightened supernatural thriller, as young Thelma falls in love with Anja, at the same time discovering she posses supernatural powers beyond her control.
Instantly compared to 1976 horror classic Carrie, the impulse to label the film as such makes sense. Writing the feature with Eskil Vogt, Trier leaned heavily on his adolescent roots and the films and directors that inspired him at that time. “To be honest with you, we wrote this going back to our childhood roots, going back to the synth music of John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream in the ‘80s, Stephen King novels, Japanese comic books, all kinds of strange Italian horror movies, all kinds of stuff that we were just fans of,” Trier explains. “We wanted there to be a sense of something visceral, visual and erotic, to be quite frank, so we were really trying to draw on a lot of inspiration from our past.”
Recognizing the prevalence of nostalgia and ’80s synth inspired projects in today’s world of entertainment, Trier sought to take a slightly different tack when it came to Thelma. “We didn’t want to do the retro thing—everyone now is doing these retro ‘80s, synth things, and we ended up scoring the film actually much more classical,” he says. “We wanted to make a romantic film. I had these amazing characters to play around with, and to tell a story with, and I thought that the romance of the story was also an essential thing.”
For Trier, the film in its essence was about “liberation,” both for himself as a filmmaker—too long confined to the restrictions of low-budget indie filmmaker—and for the film’s title character, who exists within a “Christian, reactionary background.” At Deadline’s Toronto Studio, Trier explained his sensitive approach in portraying religion, caging it as a matter of personal beliefs that should ultimately be respected.
“I think the film is respectful toward the idea of faith in religion, which I think is a really personal thing that we should all respect, but I think of course the film is critical towards the idea of how the structure of religion can suppress an individual in a society or in a family, not to accept themselves and allow them to be who they need to be,” he says. “[The film] is clearly on the side of Thelma, who’s a strong young woman who falls in love with another girl, and why shouldn’t she be able to do that?”
“But very often, the challenge of any kind of restrictive structure that people feel around them—it can be in a family that’s even not religious—is that you internalize it,” the director continues. “It becomes a part of your way of accepting or nor accepting yourself, the inner voice, and I think that’s really the story here. It’s about someone who feels like a freak, an outsider, and she somehow struggles to try to accept herself.”
To view Deadline’s TIFF conversation with Thelma helmer Joachim Trier and his lead actresses, click above.
Deadline Studio at TIFF 2017 is presented by Calii Love, Watford Group, Philosophy Canada, and Equinox. Special thanks to Dan Gunam at Calii Love for location and production assistance; and Ontario Camera for equipment assistance. Video producer: Meaghan Gable; lighting and camera: Neil Hansen; design: Dialla Kawar; sound recording: Ida Jokinen.