Thelma has been compared to Brian De Palma’s Carrie, but Trier gives his female lead agency whereas Carrie was simply a victim. This is the fourth feature in our Special Issue on Thelma. Read the rest of the issue here.
As the story of an ostracised, religious girl developing supernatural powers, Joachim Trier’s Thelma invites comparisons to Brian De Palma’s 1976 film Carrie (based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name). De Palma’s take sees the meek, sweet Carrie (Sissy Spacek) fall victim to merciless bullies and an abusive mother (Piper Laurie); there’s no question where your sympathies lie when her violent powers prove fatal to her peers. Thelma’s (Eili Harboe) suppressors are only her parents. They use their religious conservatism to control her. Their lifestyle and beliefs set Thelma apart from her peers and make her feel guilty for falling in love with her female classmate Anja (Kaya Wilkins). Yet Carrie and Thelma end up in vastly different places: Thelma’s ending is hopeful for its protagonist, but De Palma presents a fatalistic outlook.
Comparisons between the two films have been made frequently, but it’s their differences that are most telling: about De Palma and Trier as filmmakers, the way in which film has changed since the 70s, and the thematic purpose that both stories serve. Trier’s film is a character study of the eponymous Thelma, which uses horror trappings to accentuate internal conflicts that could exist in a naturalistic drama. De Palma is less interested in Carrie as a person than he is in the world around her.