October 13th, 2014


Thale's Tail Tale Told

What is meant by terms like "otherworldly" or "supernatural"? They're things that are fundamentally unrelated to our world, different from ours. If something becomes explained as natural, it ceases to be supernatural, so something supernatural can only be something strange to us and always will be. 2012's Thale depicts supernatural entities, Scandinavian mythological beings called huldra, a form of nymph, and depicts the human relationship with these beings. It's a very short movie, less than an hour and twenty minutes, and in some ways feels more like a long trailer than like a proper film. But it successfully shows the dichotomy of the flawed human man and the seductive and beautiful Other.

The film follows two men whose job it is to clean up crime scenes, disposing of bodies, blood, and other physical remains. One of the men, Elvis (Erlend Nervold), has a weak stomach for the job and the sight of blood or dismembered limbs quickly provokes him to vomit.

His partner, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard), is by contrast cool and casual on the job. Its his calm that saves Elvis when they discover Thale (Silje Reinamo), a beautiful naked woman who gets Elvis in a headlock shortly after he discovers her in a bath of what looks like milk in a lab at a crime scene.

But Leo is subject to the fallibility of the human body as well. It's revealed he has cancer which eventually causes him to vomit in a way similar to Elvis' reaction to gore.

Thale accepts a coat when Leo offers it to her but there's the impression that she is not especially afraid of being naked. She doesn't speak but has the ability to create psychic connexions with people and she has the ability to heal others.

As a horror movie, the film isn't effectively scary. A scene where Thale attacks some interlopers seems more contemplative of her beauty than a portrayal of terror. The men she attacks are in white suits, hoods, and masks and are as dehumanised as Star Wars stormtroopers. The slow motion footage of her attacking them naked serves more to establish her aesthetic perfection as a contrast to the more average looking men.

But Thale has been mutilated and violated--the owner of the lab, her adoptive father, experimented on her and cut off the cow-like tail that marked her most clearly as a huldra. More than removing the physical symbol of her true nature, the man drags her into the human world through processes that emphasise her organic nature, the blood and guts of the lab being intimately linked to Elvis and Leo's world.

It's significant that all the human characters are male and all the female characters are huldra. Like the original stories of nymphs, the huldra in Thale are like reflections of young heterosexual male preoccupations with the simultaneous appeal and strangeness of women--the film is never told from Thale's point of view. Even when we have glimpses of her memories, they are shown via a psychic communication with Elvis--we only see them because he sees them. But it is a mistake to, as some might, call this a flaw in the film. In reality, obviously women are as human as Elvis and Leo. But saying that art should avoid fantasising about the beauty of people and things strange to us, because they're other, is close to the misogynist argument that women are liars because they wear makeup. It's a virtue of the human mind that its myths lend a beauty to existence.

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