By KATE HUNTER
All right, MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t seen Thelma and Louise, STOP READING NOW.
Actually wait. BEFORE YOU STOP READING: Get to Blockbuster, rent it and watch, then come back for an insightful discussion of what I believe is one of the best movies of all time about women. Scratch that, it’s one of the best movies ever. Full stop. Fact. You are entitled to disagree with me, but you’d be wrong.
I don’t know what made me feel the need to reconnect with Thelma and Louise again last weekend. Maybe I was feeling old, trapped, in need of a laugh. Maybe I wanted to hit the road with a girlfriend and listen to country music. Maybe I wanted to shag a young Brad Pitt. Did I want to blast away a bad guy? Who knows, but I had an inexplicable urge to watch my favourite movie again. Straight away. Sadly, my copy was on VHS. Young readers will need to Google that, but thankfully JB Hifi was harbouring a DVD filed under ‘vintage’.
Seriously, had it been that long? Yes. Thelma And Louise was released in 1991.
To refresh your memory, and to fill in those readers unaffected by my spoiler alert, Thelma And Louise starred Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as best friends who take a weekend road trip. Thelma (Davis) is a perky housewife, married to a boorish carpet salesman and Louise (Sarandon) is a jaded waitress whose nice-enough boyfriend will probably never marry her. The girls’ getaway takes a detour when Thelma is assaulted by a man she’d danced with at a roadside bar. Louise shoots the man dead, saving Thelma from being raped. Their girls weekend becomes a desperate bolt to Mexico.
As they drive deeper into America’s wild southwest, they shed their fussy hairstyles, respect for convention, and faith in the law. They become happier, wiser, funnier, and sexier.
Even as the bumbling cops (Harvey Keitel is great as a sympathetic detective) close in on them, they get braver, more assured. There’s a stunning scene as they drive through the desert night. Thelma says to Louise, “Something’s crossed over in me and I can’t go back …. I feel awake. I don’t ever remember feeling this awake. Everything looks different now. Do you feel like that? Like you’ve got something to look forward to?”
Louise did, and they talked about making Margaritas by the sea. Joking but deadly serious.
When I was talking with a friend about how Thelma And Louise is a story of freedom, transformation and female empowerment, she said, ‘Well sure …. Except for the end when they drove off a cliff and DIED.’
Hmmph. Well yes. Fair point. If you want to take it literally. Thelma And Louise’s Screenwriter Callie Khoury (who won an Oscar for her work) said in an interview,
‘To me, the ending was symbolic … we did everything possible to make sure you didn’t see a literal death. That you didn’t see the car land, you didn’t see a puff of smoke come out of the canyon. You were left with the image of them flying. They flew away, out of this world and into the mass unconscious. After all they went through, I didn’t want anyone to be able to touch them.”
There has always been talk of alternate endings, in which they both got away, or had Louise pushing Thelma from the car at the last minute., but they were never shot. Ridley Scott did shoot a longer ending – it appears as an extra in the 20th Anniversary edition Blu-Ray) – where troopers peer into the canyon, presumably at the wreckage of Louise’s ’66 Thunderbird.
Whether the ending was one of literal death, or metaphorical escape, I don’t know and to be honest, I don’t really care. It’s just a fantastic movie.
I remember, after I first saw it though, being astonished that not everyone shared my enthusiasm. My parents walked out of the cinema, saying it was ‘Too violent.’
‘REALLY?’ I gasped. There’s 10 times more shooting in your average James Bond movie, and the body count was far higher in ‘Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid,’ which was my parents’ favourite flick, and one that Thelma And Louise is often compared to.
‘Which part bothered you?’ I asked.
‘The part where she shoots the man,’ said Mum, ‘It was all a bit anti-men.’
‘It was feminist rubbish,’ grumbled Dad.
I was glad, then, that they didn’t stay to see Louise fire away at a leering trucker’s petrol tanker until it exploded.
Was Thelma and Louise a feminist movie? I had no idea. I just thought it was hilarious and strong and true.
Now that I’m older than Thelma and Louse lived to be, I think yes, it is a feminist movie, and sadly, I think it’s the only one I’ve ever seen. Certainly it’s the only one that’s been a box office smash.
There are lots of movies about women and friendship – but they’re mostly worthy biopics, dour period dramas or rompy romantic comedies. Bridget Jones and Bridesmaids broke some barriers in that they showed girls drinking and swearing and not wearing makeup, but in the end was invariably the love of a good man that proved to be their great escape.
I don’t think Thelma and Louise was anti-men at all. It was anti-dickeads and anti-rapists but Thelma and Louise loved men. Certainly Thelma loved her night with a lithe, barely-beyond-teenage Brad Pitt (still my favourite Pitt performance , and not just because of his abs) and there’s a touch-and-go scene where Louise almost tells her long-time boyfriend what’s going on. Will she ask for his help? He seems like a decent fella. But no, she backs her friend, and herself.
I don’t remember feeling sad when Thelma and Louise ended, the two friends holding hands, their car suspended against a blue sky. But I feel a bit depressed to think I’ll never see a movie like it again.
What was the movie that changed your life?