ENTITLED TO ECCENTRICITIES: GUILT AND DESIRE IN 1940S MELODRAMA AND IN THELMA (JOACHIM TRIER, 2017)

Summary: In her study The Desire to Desire, the feminist film scholar Mary Ann Doane examines how a potential excess of female desire in 1940s melodramas is neutralized with the help of either a male ‘medical gaze’ or a male musician and his ear. The philosopher Stanley Cavell, however, criticizes Doane for adopting a patriarchal perspective. According to Cavell, the women in these films are not self-sacrificing victims whose bodily symptoms are adequately read by a doctor; rather, the female protagonists are intriguing because they exceed conventional labeling – notwithstanding their often unfortunate situations. By taking as a lead Cavell’s idea that these films stage the idiosyncrasies of the ‘unknown woman’, this article analyzes Joachim Trier’s supernatural thriller Thelma (2017) in tandem with the earlier melodramas. Raised in a strictly religious environment, Thelma struggles with desire, with a sense of guilt, and with the superego. The best alternative to escape this deadlock is for Thelma to develop her ‘personal eccentricity’, as a woman in between categories, in the vein of Charlotte Vale, the protagonist of Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942), one of the melodramas favored by Cavell.