Cinephiles use terms like blind spots or shames to discuss films they, as cinephiles feel they ought to have seen but haven’t. While I have seen most of the big, acclaimed films, there are still (always) plenty of highly acclaimed classics that I’ve so far missed. I’m not sure what recently got me thinking about Thelma and Louise, but given my interests in film, this iconic feminist story was one that I certainly felt a lot of shame in overlooking. Of course, by this point the opportunity to watch it without knowing where it would end had long vanished.
Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) are sneaking away from their respective men for a weekend retreat. Thelma is meek/naive, so cowed by her overbearing husband she can’t even get up the courage to tell him she’s going. Louise seems stronger and world-wise. However, when Louise shoots a man who tried to rape Thelma, suddenly they become fugitives. It is a complex moment, from the man’s sense of entitlement because he got her drunk and danced, to Louise’s suspicion that a claim of self-defense wouldn’t be believed, since others who saw Thelma with the man would similarly imply consent. This seems relevant at a time when some suggest having women carry guns would solve the college sexual assault problem. But from certain instances under the “stand your ground” law, it seems Louise may be right and the law will find a way not to protect them.
While on the one hand the story plays out as desperation leading these two women further and further from the law, a kind of downward spiral common to stories about women turning to prostitution, in this case they are actually finding themselves increasingly free from patriarchy’s grasp. While hopefully not a call for women to disobey actual laws, it does act as an empowerment narrative about throwing off social restrictions and for not allowing themselves to be oppressed by men, whether it is sexual assault and harassment or being swindled by them. In this way the ending perfectly captures the spirit of living on their own terms. Weaving all of this into an engaging popcorn flick is a bonus. Though it has some heavy elements, it is a pretty lively movie, including probably my favorite exchange:
Darryl: Thelma, hello!
*Thelma hangs up phone*
Thelma: He knows.
It is a moment whose comedy arises out of the work the film has done building its characters and in the delivery by a mostly solid cast. The main exception to this is the trucker. I like the idea but that actor, and maybe the lines given to him, are just terrible. Basically the worst. But I guess by that point the film has descended into a bit more of a B-movie. It is a minor complaint in a strong film.