#264 Thelma & Louise

(1991, Ridley Scott)
“You’ve always been crazy, this is just the first chance you’ve had to express yourself”

Feminism in film is often a thorny topic, one that centres on representation of women in cinema. Far too often, movies put men front and centre, leaving women to be side characters or leads in fluffy romantic movies only. It’s rare for women to be put front and centre in more demanding roles, and that’s before we even see some of the struggles women face and are still trying to deal with via feminism. But in 1991, Ridley Scott had a go at tackling the subject with Thelma & Louise.

In Arkansas, Thelma (Geena Davis) lives with an overbearing husband, causing her to be passive and withdrawn. Her best friend, Louise (Susan Sarandon), is much tougher and self-assured. Louise suggests a weekend away, and Thelma escapes and goes along. However, before their weekend can truly begin, Thelma is almost raped by a man at a bar. Louise saves her by shooting and killing him, leading the duo to go on the run to escape the consequences of this action.

Thelma & Louise is a sometimes-difficult movie to watch, from the uncomfortable rape scene to the realisation that Thelma’s naivety gets the duo into more trouble than it should. The rape scene does need to be mentioned, especially because of how unpleasant it is. I personally find rape one of the most reprehensible things a person can do, so I was not having a good time with that scene. Which I suppose means it did its job. But beneath all this difficulty is a very strong movie about friendship.

And what a friendship. Thelma and Louise are two very different characters that manage to bounce off each other incredibly well. Despite their vast differences, these two are believable as friends. It’s hard to say exactly what it is, but they do have excellent on-screen chemistry and it’s easy to see why Louise still sticks by her buddy despite the worst things that happen to them.

Both characters are also hugely sympathetic. Thelma is alarmingly ditzy at times, but her naivety has a degree of innocence to it, almost as if being with her controlling husband has reduced her to this state, especially with her increasingly coming out of her shell as the movie progresses. Louise is harder and sterner, but there’s a genuine affection for her friend, and the permanent sense that she’s been hardened through trauma. Both women are excellent characters played perfectly, and that was the main thing this movie needed to get right.

Performances are also excellent from the supporting cast. Brad Pitt is charming and sleazy in equal measure, Harvey Kietel is surprisingly sympathetic in his role as a “villain” and it’s hard to not feel sorry for Michael Madsen’s character for getting wrapped up in something he doesn’t know all the details of, but supporting Louise all the same.

The movie has had accusations of being “man-hating” and “anti-men”, and while certainly Thelma’s would-be rapist, Thelma’s husband and Brad Pitt (basically all men Thelma directly has to deal with, funnily enough) are all absolute shits, Kietel and Madsen are played sympathetically, which is especially odd with both of them famously playing amoral jewel thieves only a year later in Reservoir Dogs. There’s a balance between awful men and reasonably OK men. It’s just that everyone in this movie is a deeply flawed character, so it probably just seems that all the men are portrayed in a bad light. The heroines don’t get off much easier, after all. And in a world where everyone’s an asshole, isn’t that true equality?

The movie isn’t perfect. Some of the plot points are a tad melodramatic, and the increasingly extreme problems the duo face can get a little silly. In addition, Thelma’s naivety can get a little grating, even going as far as deciding that being on the run is the perfect time to get some sexin’ from a random man who openly admits to being a thief. This section of the movie also slows the pace a little too much in the context of everything else. But oddly, everything holds together well on the characterisation alone.

So, basically, the flaws are pretty minor. Thelma & Louise is ultimately an excellent movie about friendship, feminism and felonies, and I highly recommend it.

Starring Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon
Written by Callie Khouri
Produced by Mimi Polk Gitlin & Ridley Scott
Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography by Adrian Biddle
Edited by Thom Noble

Favourite Scene: Thelma pointing a gun at a police officer was pretty damn badass, it has to be said
Scene That Bugged Me: Seriously, now is not the best time to have sex with Brad Pitt!

Watch it if: You like road movies, revenge movies or movies about genuine female friendship
Avoid it if: You’re expecting a happy ending

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Posted on March 6, 2014, in 1990s, Adventure, Crime, Drama and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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