Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
An Arkansas waitress and a housewife shoot a rapist and take off in a '66 Thunderbird.
Often regarded as a post-modern take on feminism, this action movie of two women on the run from their stereotypical lives of housewife for Thelma (Geena Davis) and waitress for Louise (Susan Sarandon) has even more to offer than this unidimensional vision of its meaning.
In a movie of the Middle West of America, it is quite normal to see a housewife obedient to her husband and almost scared of his anger. On the other side, the typical waitress working in a diner carrying a secret that makes her look stiffer and much more distant to people is a nice blink to let’s say Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
The chase for them starts when they decide to go away for the weekend in a friend’s cabin but on their first stop they shoot a rapist and then part on the run. It is a clear point that woman abuse has come to a boiling point and when the gun is shot both women will be relieved from the oppression of men and their passive life is now over. This is the place where they stand up for the women and stop being guilty for being what they are. It is literally their liberation even if at first their sentiment of guilt and scare for trespassing the civilization of men leaded society eats them.
Then you have on their trail Detective Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel). Keitel is in a very inspired reinterpretation of the stereotypical detective following killers on the run. He seems to understand and know why both women are scared to death of authorities. His presence is protective and he is shot like a father figure to Louise. The scene where he enters in her apartment and watches a picture of a younger Louise is kind of awkward in the way that he looks and reacts. This character breaks the typical pattern of the stupid one trick pony cop that is always two minutes late on the scene of the crime. It clearly clashes with the other agent Max (Stephen Tobolowsky) who plays it à la shoot first then we’ll ask questions.
With Jimmy (Michael Madsen), Louise’s lover, we understand that their relationship wasn’t easy and that they probably met to late in their respective lives. This is the kind of man that was good but also bad for her. He respects her and let her go for her own will.
Other than Slocumb and Jimmy, the other men pictured in Thelma & Louise are bits of what the worst in men can be, the charmer and rapist who also cheats on his wife in Harlan Puckett (Timothy Carhart), the young good looking and horny J.D. (Brad Pitt), Thelma’s husband Darryl or the man that takes his wife for granted and his possession (Christopher McDonald), the clearly impotent and weak state trooper that represents the man in uniform (Jason Beghe), and the vulgar truck driver thinking that vulgarity will turn on a woman (Marco St. John). It is a nice sample of the worst of macho driven images that many Hollywood big movies have carried for an ideal. Thelma and Louise are crushing every man made female phantasm after another.
Then it leads me to reenact the fact that I’m declaring that Thelma & Louise is much more that just a feminist movie. It is punch to the face to the traditional action film and to the male models that we are imposed by films and society. It is a film that asks us to see further than just the typical script and characters.
On the other side, those are two women that could easily form one. Just like in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona there are shifts between their personalities and they seem to get to form one entity of freedom and liberation. Looking at their outfits from start to finish there’s a subtle evolution. Finally, the similarity of their hair color and the changing of character until the legendary ending of Thelma and Louise demonstrates a real talent in character development by writer Callie Khouri.
With all that said, it is surprising that this film wasn’t directed by a woman. But in fact, Ridley Scott isn’t that much a surprise however. With his masterpiece Alien, already a film where a female was the lead in a untypical role and film, he demonstrated a sensibility that is like no other. I suppose that Scott let to his female leads a lot of freedom and he listened to his writer carefully. Finally the cinematography adds to the beauty of the film and the vast desert land represents how the spirit of the West in the same time the Western genre represents hope for a better future.
Thelma & Louise is a great film that deserves all the attention and praise it received since its release.