What would happen if you were a young person trying to find yourself and you suddenly discovered that you had strange and mysterious powers? That is the core of Thelma and even though it sounds like the premise of a modern Hollywood blockbuster or a comic book movie adaptation, it isn't. Far from it. Even though it does feel like an X-Men movie in some ways, this is a coming of age story that just so happens to also have literal superpowers involved.
In The Orchard Release Thelma, a shy young student named (you guessed it) Thelma (Eili Harboe) has just left her religious family in a small town on the west coast of Norway to study at a university in Oslo. While at the library one day, she experiences a violent, unexpected seizure. Soon after, she finds herself intensely drawn toward Anja, a beautiful young student who reciprocates Thelma's powerful attraction. As the semester continues, Thelma becomes increasingly overwhelmed by her intense feelings for Anja (Kaya Wilkins), feelings she doesn't dare acknowledge, even to herself, while at the same time experiencing even more extreme seizures. As it becomes clearer that the seizures are a symptom of inexplicable, often dangerous, supernatural abilities, Thelma is confronted with tragic secrets of her past, and the terrifying implications of her powers.
Thelma may be a movie that winds up being sold on the idea that there is a girl with superpowers in it, but this really is a movie that is so much more. Director Joachim Trier manages to explore the ideas of religious belief, sexuality, finding your place in the world and so much more, with most of it never feeling heavy handed. That all makes Thelma a great coming of age tale, in addition to an outstanding movie that feels like a comic book movie but isn't really a comic book movie. It feels like an arthouse, auteur version of an X-Men movie without all of the CGI and overcomplicated. This is a hyper-focused story on one girl discovering something special about herself.
There are times in Thelma where the audience is confused, but not in a bad way. It very much mirrors the character's confusion. As she learns, so do we. None of it unfolds via clunky expositional dialogue. This is a quiet, artistic and very subverted movie. That said, it is also gorgeous, a bit strange and never not intriguing. Joachim Trier also manages to avoid a needlessly ambiguous, frustrating ending that might usually accompany this kind of movie. There is a beginning, middle and an end. Sure, there's some ambiguity in there, but not the kind that can feel lazy or maddening.
To put it all another way, Thelma feels like the kind of foreign movie that will one day get an American remake that is slightly unsatisfying to those who have seen the original. As they say, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. If you are a moviegoer who happens to like arthouse cinema and the occasional comic book movie, this may be the blend of the two that you didn't know you needed. Thelma is set to hit theaters on November 10.