Movie Review: Thelma & Louise
Director: Ridley Scott
Reviewed: 11 July 2015
I have lived with the cultural imprint of Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise since 8th grade, but I never had the opportunity to watch it until twenty-four years after its release. So, I cannot assess its immediate cultural impact the year of its release, the same year that Jodie Foster won Best Actress as Clarice Starling in The Silence of The Lambs, but I regularly watch the TV show Nashville, created by Oscar-winning screenwriter Callie Khouri who has gone onto write several additional films like Something to Talk About and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Her work here is fused with a nearly invisible Ridley Scott, but the film fails or succeeds on the strength of its eponymous relationship. As Thelma, the cooped-up neglected wife of a loser, Geena Davis shines, depicting Thelma's thirst for adventure and excitement as she sets off on a weekend excursion with her best friend Louise (Susan Sarandon), a waitress with an on again, off again relationship with musician Jimmy (Michael Madsen). A little ways into their journey, the pair stop at a local bar, and when a man tries to rape Thelma in the parking lot, a shocking act of violence sends the two women on the road in a 1966 Ford Thunderbird, afraid of what they have done and completely convinced that the system will not believe their side of the story. So, a sort of road trip develops as the women figure out their next moves, as well as if they will stick together or go their own separate ways. There are hitchhikers like hunky J.D. (Brad Pitt in his cinema debut) and harassing truck drivers; there is Hal, a thoughtful police detective (Harvey Keitel) who seems to understand their plight. But as the two women drive closer and closer to their destiny, a sense of foreboding develops as does their criminal and even vigilante sides with the women of the last third of the film resembling desperados of the Old West, appropriately shot against the expanses of Utah, ersatz Arizona, though itself heartbreakingly beautiful.
The film's emotional core holds up, and watching Sarandon and Davis grapple with these life-changing decisions is what drives this film. Neither woman has it figured out; both do a great job of depicting the thinking in the moment, the fear and sadness of their situation. Both get the great opportunity to transform with their characters from meek and subservient to strong and independent. The plot itself hinges a ton on coincidence with Harvey Keitel's detective being pretty quick at tracking them and collecting camera footage from small town gas station robberies, but it builds to its emotional, iconic ending in the desert which pulls no punches.
Twenty-four years later, its world of pay telephones and reading maps in the car seems quaint in the modern era of smartphones and Googlemaps. But the drive of Thelma & Louise, the story of these two women, their strong friendship and refusal to conform or endure abuse at the hands of husbands, lovers, or frankly, anyone, marks a moment in feminist storytelling that is both compelling and revolutionary and not easily forgotten.