Thelma & Louise — CLASSIC FILM PICK
Written by debut screenwriter Callie Khouri and directed by Ridley Scott “Thelma & Louise” (1991) is a proto-feminist road movie that struck a sensitive nerve in American culture at the time of its release. The movie resonates with a rebellious female intelligence and cathartic revenge against male aggression. Each of the film’s dual protagonists is a victim of rape.
Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) are working-class women living in Arkansas. Louise, the matriarch of the pair, works as a waitress in a diner. Stay-at-home Thelma plays housewife to Darryl (Christopher McDonald), a selfish and demeaning car salesman. Both women are trapped in sociological stereotypes of the era. Thelma can’t bring herself to ask Darryl if she can go on a two-day fishing trip with her best friend, much less announce her modest vacation plans. Louise pointedly asks Thelma if Darryl is her “husband” or her “father.” Such themes of matriarchal and patriarchal definitions run throughout the story. During the film’s first half, Louise has a mothering influence over Thelma before the tables are turned. Thelma eventually takes over the role of mentor to Louise.
A shocking inciting incident arrives in the parking lot of a roadhouse where Thelma and Louise initiate their celebration of liberation from their daily grinds with drinks and dancing. Thelma dances with a seemingly harmless cowboy named Harlan (Timothy Carhart) before he takes her outside for some fresh air. Harlan brutally takes physical advantage of Thelma’s drunken state on the hood of a parked car before Louise comes to Thelma’s rescue with a .38-caliber revolver. Something snaps in Louise when Harlan announces that he “should have gone ahead and fucked” Thelma, before taunting Louise to “suck” his cock. One impulsive moment later, Harlan lies dead from a single gunshot to the heart. The girls’ fishing trip turns into a desperate attempt to escape into Mexico.
The movie grapples with America’s skewed legal system. Louise strikes down Thelma’s suggestion that they go to the police because they can't prove that Harlan tried to rape her. The fact Thelma was seen dancing with her attacker for several hours will obviously lead to the assumption that she led him on. The women decide that their lives will be ruined unless they manage to get out of the country. More so than the outrage expressed by critics for the film’s imagined man-hating agenda, it seems likely that the piece of subtext that got under the skin of right-wing ideologues had more to do with the intrinsic suggestion that “freedom” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be in the old U. S. of A.
Loyalty and friendship between two women who discover beauty, lust, and the wonder of the road is at the heart of “Thelma & Louise.” Their outlaw acts wake them up to feel more existentially fulfilled than they ever have before. Theirs is a full-blooded romantic fantasy that makes the most of a tragic situation. Thelma and Louise are true heroines of the cinema.
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