Pardon my ignorance but all I knew about Thelma & Louise before watching it for the first time this evening was the iconic ending and the fact that young Brad Pitt was in it. I was obviously delighted and moved by how much more there is to this film—and a little sad that it is still so unique.
The first thing I didn’t know about, that is obvious and important, is its feminist, ass-kicking-ness. Thelma & Louise take charge of their lives before they shoot anyone, and they never look back. The next feature of the film is the not subtle, yet not obnoxious sad realities of chauvinism it shows, and the lack of options for these women. And finally I was blown away by how unapologetically it escalated from from road trip to oil tanker explosion—and how hilarious and serious it was at the same time.
Thelma and Louise really are desperate; they’re trapped by lack of opportunity and controlling men and the cowboy early-90s laws that governed their world. Their whole outlaw adventure begins because Louise points out that no one would believe Thelma’s rapist was trying to have sex with her against her will. They go on to take on belittling cops that underestimate them, get the best of burglar Brad Pitt by stealing his MO, teach an unforgettable lesson to a vulgar sexist truck driver, and bowl over all the men who stand in their way on the road to independence.
Yet Thelma and Louise came out nearly 25 years ago, and we’re only just making headway in the “well, if you were dancing with him all night, surely he couldn’t have raped you” battles. Would more movies like Thelma & Louise have made a difference in fights like these? Some of the only other action-oriented movies that come to mind in which ladies unflinchingly break out of the boxes men put them in are Frozen and Teeth (and maybe Practical Magic? But that ends up being all about a man, too. Mixed feelings on that one). I feel lucky that I’m witnessing the moment where female artists, writers, students say sexism in Hollywood, campus rape, unequal pay, lack of access to reproductive rights are NOT OK. Yet so many of the feminist shows and films I love today are almost apologetic: women characters often bend over backwards to explain to the audience WHY they’re doing the (independent, progressive, awesome) things they’re doing (think Hannah Horvath’s empowering speeches to Adam). What I loved about Thelma and Louise was how the characters just get on this trajectory, and yes, they’re scared and unsure, but they go for it. And it’s hilarious, and empowering, and also sad. Anyway, wth happened in the ’90s and 2000’s?!
You know, it’s not unusual for a simple buddy comedy to escalate to explosions and shoot out scenes. The fact that this one was so surprising—because it was about women and sexism and freedom, not just bros and pot—made me sad. Thelma & Louise made me hungry for more female characters who are free of self-doubt, and movies about women and female friendship that entertain, inspire, empower. Oh, and more of this wouldn’t be bad either.