Much Ado Pride 2018: ‘Thelma’ and the Relationship Between the Repression of Female Sexuality and Horror in Film

The use of horror as a metaphor for the impact of repressed female sexuality in cinema can be found in a range of films, from Julia Ducournau’s arresting debut feature, Raw, to Brian de Palma’s masterful tale of a girl’s unusual coming of age in Carrie. It’s not necessarily a new way of tackling the subject of teenage girls and their first ventures into sexual desire, but it is a deeply effective one and serves as the central theme of Thelma—Joachim Trier’s brilliant meditation on one young woman’s discovery of the wants she has stifled for so long.

The titular Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a quiet, thoughtful freshman who, when we first meet her, appears to be overwhelmed by shyness. As she attends university in Oslo, a sharp contrast to the notably eerie house that she lives in with her parents in the Norwegian countryside, she initially struggles to settle into the student lifestyle with her fellow classmates. Through brief glimpses into her relationship with her parents, often presented in the form of somewhat invasive phone-calls to Thelma after her classes, we learn that they are fundamentalist Christians to whom Thelma can barely admit that she drank a little wine without panic rising. Already, within the film’s first thirty minutes, the repression surrounding Thelma’s life has been established. Once we learn that she has spent the first eighteen years of her life under the thumb of her parents–akin to the way in which Sissy Spacek’s telekinetic lead of Carrie spent hers restrained by her mother–the visible concern that arises whenever she speaks to another person begins to make sense.

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“Thelma”: A Striking Imagery of Female Power Told In European Art-house Style

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Eili Harboe as the titular character in Thelma. | Photo: Imagine Film/The Orchard

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” whispers Margaret White to herself, near the start of the infamous third arc of Brian De Palma’s 1976-made cult masterpiece Carrie, based on Stephen Kings’s novel of the same name and starring Sissy Spacek in the titular role of a demure, innocent high-school girl who realizes she has telekinetic powers after her first period. The setting is the movie’s silence before the storm, with Carrie having just left her mother alone in their home to go to the prom, which is in itself an act of rebellion that accumulates the varying loose threads of her growing confidence in a final push against her mother, who begs her not the go many times, basing her protests on the ground that “they’re (as in her peers) all gonna laugh at her”. Carrie doesn’t listen to her mother’s paranoid arguments and leaves, happy to finally be seen as beautiful and noteworthy, her breasts showing behind her pink dress and a corsage in her hand, given by William Katt’s Tommy Ross.

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