Thelma & Louise Movie Review

Thelma & Louise is a landmark film, one that defines the cinematic terrain for female empowerment and one that effortlessly blends powerful ideas about gender with an endlessly engaging story. The film weaves a story about women in distress, who come from depressed backgrounds and seedy locales, which is not entirely different from any prototypical Lifetime Movie of the Week. The genius of Ridley Scott's direction and Callie Khouri's groundbreaking screenplay is that they allow the film to flirt with standard archetypal conventions, all the while upending conventional notions of women -- particularly women in the sort of situation Thelma and Louise find themselves in.

The movie jumps headfirst into the action without any necessary build-up or labored background. We meet Louise, a headstrong waitress, and her younger, flighty friend Thelma (Geena Davis) as they finalize plans for their road trip. Nothing more or less complicated than that. Where they are going is fairly vague; why they are going is more telling: their explicit purpose in taking a trip is to escape from the men in their lives. Jimmy (Michael Madsen), Louise's longtime casual partner, is a gruff mechanic who loves Louise, but doesn't know how to show it. Darryl (Christopher McDonald), Thelma's husband, is a plain loser, a carpet salesman with a cheesy mustache, bouffant-fro, and a lack of respect for his wife.

Louise and Thelma have no wild intentions or hidden agendas as they set off on their trip -- other than to give their significant others a scare and give themselves a break. Over the course of a seemingly normal road trip night, however, their best laid plans go off to stray. The ladies stop off at a sleazy roadside bar, where Thelma is propositioned by a nasty trucker and is beaten and nearly raped, until Louise shows up at just the right moment. In a fit of rage and the heat of the moment, Louise shoots the bastard dead. All of the sudden, Thelma and Louise are fugitives, and the film turns into one of the best buddies-on-the-run movies ever made.

Thelma & Louise was pioneering in the sophistication of its gender dissection when it was released. When Thelma initially wants to call the cops after Louise kills the truck driver, Louise responds, "You think they'd believe us when the whole bar saw you dancin' with him the whole night? We don't live in that kind of world." And it's true -- they didn't, and nearly 20 years later, we still don't. This film dared to flagrantly violate the divide between how men and women are allowed to act in motion pictures. Men kill freely and are called heroes. Women, on the other hand, are damsels, and never the hero. Not Thelma and Louise, who kill a man, go on the lam, steal when they need to, and even blow up a semi, but not only are their actions permitted, they are explicitly justified.

Once the two friends are targeted as fugitives, an Arkansas cop (Harvey Keitel) begins searching for them with such dedication that he eventually begins to care for them -- he doesn't want to put them away, he wants to save them. For Thelma and Louise, however, "saving" is not a word they want to hear or an act they need. During their journey, Thelma and Louise discover themselves in a way they never could have at home, or even on a normal vacation -- their sudden brush with murder shifts them not merely from innocents into criminals, but from the enslaved into the awakened. They are not angry bitches on the run -- they are fully realized, they are enlightened, they are free.

In Thelma we see a young woman, left naive and a little dumb by her unfortunate upbringing, who over the course of this long journey finds an inner strength and world-worn wisdom she may have otherwise never attained. In Louise we see a whipsmart, weathered, independent woman who eventually discovers what she never thought possible -- that she deeply needs the support and guidance of a friend. One woman starts as the mother and the other as the daughter, and over the course of the film, the roles reverse. That is dynamic character development; that is brilliant screenwriting.

For Khouri's trouble, she won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. As for Scott, the director of Blade Runner, Alien, and other such classics, Thelma & Louise remains one of his career-best films, a genre-defining, gender-flipping cultural icon of a movie. It is powerful, it is funny, it is ingenious... it is a modern classic.


Comments

Thelma & Louise Rating

" Essential "

Rating: R, 1991

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