The Styrian community of Thal has just over 2,000 inhabitants, yet it lays claim to a "son" who is known even to Buddhist monks in Burma: the powerful muscle man Arnold Schwarzenegger. This anecdote is told by one of a dozen Thal residents interviewed in the documentary film california. In the film, on the occasion of the election of the "Styrian oak" as governor of California, Sigmund Steiner asks the local mayor and priest, as well as average citizens about their opinion of this event and their thoughts in general about the U.S. state of California.
Steiner is not concerned with Schwarzenegger's biographical ties to Thal, or with establishing his native roots; thus the shots of the village and its surroundings remain as random landscape images of fields, pastures, and houses. Instead, Steiner produces a chain of associations within which the specific details of the most famous Thaler-son dissolve into the lack of specifics of the Hollywood star and neo-politician. Schwarzenegger becomes merely another of the images shaped mainly by popular culture, which are arranged in the word-rap California, a state that the Thalers associate just as much with uniformity as with death threats and the oppression of minorities. Somehow, those questioned seem to have long agreed that the entire world belongs to Arnold. Two references to the animal world clarify this even further: once he is compared with a spider, able to assimilate well, and once with a bird, able to integrate his song into his surroundings. In the end, Schwarzenegger is a "true American", but in his heart a "Styrian from Thal", a strange hybrid being, who from time to time speaks in a familiar way.