In praise of Thelma And Louise (1991)
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Remembering a gals 'buddy movie' that went way beyond pillow-fights and boys...
During a weekend away to revitalise themselves, two women Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) are involved in a botched rape attempt that leaves the man dead. As they run from the police and their past lives they assume new ones, engaging in the excitement they have craved for so long.
Unlike other buddy movies, Ridley Scott’s now iconic Thelma and Louise (1991) is different for its focus on the two central, female protagonists rather than male characters in the likes of George Roy Hill’s classic western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Michael Cimino’s Vietnam epic, The Deer Hunter (1978) and Bruce Robinson’s dark and hilarious Withnail and I (1987). But in keeping with these successful, male orientated partnerships, Scott and screenwriter Callie Khouri incorporate several events that are symbolic of a perfect and unbreakable friendship, but based on a very female model.
Today, you can see the female pride strutting out of its dusty, unclean surroundings. The women share moments of maternal instinct and protection, glamorous photos and extravagant ranges of alcoholic drinks and locations, albeit in a working class fashion. Culminating in, not only the sealing moment of the film, but also the strongest image of friendship - the holding of hands that eases the audience towards that favoured ‘all’s-well-that-ends-well’ scenario. All of these images, I would imagine, are embraced by not only the women of today but also their respecting male partners.
Dare I say this vehicle of female power resembles that of Sex and the City? Just with less high-heels.
In the same vein as previous buddy-cum-road movies, the antagonists encountered by the southern drawled heroines are some of the most repulsive a person could meet. There is the egotistical and condescending presence of Darryl (Christopher McDonald), Thelma’s husband, who is the main reason for her vacation, and the drunkard who becomes the reason for the ladies’ sprint for freedom, along with accompaniment from a plethora of rednecks, highway policemen and J.D. (Brad Pitt) a self-declared thief who proves to be a master of seduction and deception. Scott (a man, if you somehow didn’t know already) manages to involve the audience with plenty of antagonists the pair must overcome in order to reach their goal. In so doing it gives female audiences a story to be proud of and, given the nature of the leading ladies; it generates a more respected female stereotype Sarah Jessica Parker would definitely ‘do’ lunch with.
However both Davis and Sarandon bring to the screen a mixture of vulnerability and independence, switching between Louise’s need for Hal (Harvey Keitel) and joyriding in a ’66 Thunderbird, which may as well be the label of complete emasculation. The actresses' representation of the two protagonists takes the audience in and happily controls the development of the narrative, relating all the problems they encounter to the score of husky and jubilant Country music often dominated by men, apart from balloon-chested icon Dolly Parton who is arguably the best of the bunch.
They are glamorous in a working class manner showing that, despite their degradation from those closest to them, beauty always finds a way to shine through. Thelma and Louise places equal and strong emphasis on physical beauty as well as masked inner beauty.
Their support of each other throughout the film has the ability to make any audience member re-think the importance of a friendship, although encountering such problems is unlikely. In keeping with the male streak in the film, there is not a point at which one of the leading ladies isn’t taking on the role of ‘the man’ within the relationship, events occur that force each of them to discover hidden mental strength in order to guide them both to relative safety. The obvious comparison here is whether women today need to have their independence or their strength shown with a male overtone? Not a chance! Women today do not need validation given in respect of men; they earn it of its own accord.
Scott’s interpretation of the story is well-rounded. and when you consider his previous accolades such as Alien (1979) his direction of Thelma and Louise can be seen as a change of niche in genre terms, despite the obvious use of uber-female protagonists. Who would mess with Ripley? Although Scott made a good film, he couldn’t have done it without Callie Khouri, whose original script was turned into her debut screenplay. For her work Khouri received an Oscar for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ and a Golden Globe for ‘Best Screenplay’ as well as being nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ at the British Academy Awards.
The combined contribution of the principals involved has allowed for a full and rich story that does not hesitate to create characters that can drag the best out of life despite the monotonous male dominated reality in which they live. The underlying image of the film’s feminine side allows for touches that add humour and subtle depth to the narrative. Consequently, enabling the leading ladies to make us feel empathy for them and to support the enemy of the state. A film you must see and one that pulls on the faux-leather handbag of your heart.
One last thing, I am a man. I wonder if that changes your opinion.
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