“I don’t ever remember feeling this awake.”
This was my achilles heel. The conversation would begin whereby the group sing the praises of Ridley Scott. I love Alien. I love Blade Runner. I love Gladiator. I love Black Hawk Down. Then, some smart-alec claims how they love Thelma & Louise. I would sit in silence. I haven’t seen that one. Until now.
As a man, this film seems to stand up and shout: “If you are a man and you act like a man … then you can fu** off”. In all it’s angry intonations, this is what I believe is at the core of Thelma & Louise. Anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves. Women are beautiful creatures – as stunning as the landscapes our titular characters drive past. Men pass down the highways, oblivious to the beauty, and instead simply dominate the roads with their hulking bodies, shaped like trucks. From the outset, it is clear that there is more beneath the surface of Thelma & Louise; Louise (Susan Sarandon) has clearly been through something exceptionally heart-breaking; the abuse which Thelma (Geena Davies) has faced for years in a loveless marriage doesn’t bear thinking about. With regard to Thelma, it is no surprise she is naive to the intentions of men as she has needed to block out the horrendous treatment from her husband for years.
Sexist attitudes can often emerge within (what people believe) is a grey-area when discussing rape. Released in 1991, the conversation regarding who is at “fault” was much more prevalent. The opening-act set-up shows Thelma dancing “cheek-to-cheek” with Harlan (Timothy Carhart) and, as he propositions her, her rejection transforms him from a seedy, lecherous man into a rapist. Or, more honestly, he was always a rapist. No transformation – no discussion. Harlan is a rapist. End of.
In the same argument, you can play with “Who is responsible for the theft of the money”. Thelma’s attraction to JD (Brad Pitt) lead to the wired money being stolen. Was Thelma foolish for falling for JD in the first place? Shouldn’t she have thought ahead before opening her door to a stranger – however attractive he is? And, as I understand, Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise is the definition of an attractive-male.
The truth is that just as Harlan is a rapist, JD is a thief. Thelma isn’t responsible in either case – the men are. Too often, people will transfer the blame, but it is clear that in both cases, men are at fault. Indeed, when you then reflect on the sequence involving sexist men stating how “women love that shit”, you realise men seem to be given a pass on such attitudes. Even now, 22 years on, has it stopped? It should stop – and like Louise, we should be angry about it.
But this is by no means ‘alien’ (badum-tish!) to Ridley Scott’s style of film-making. A stunning shot passing across the ’66 Thunderbird seems to hark straight back to Alien, whilst the transition from a sunny-road to a rainy urban-street to reveal Jimmy returning home doesn’t seem a far stretch from the type of pan-shots in Blade Runner. Indeed, the fact that Ridley supported the change-in-gender of the lead-character of Alien also supports his pro-feminism attitudes.
But the film remains an established classic due to the brutally honest attitude towards sexism. Louise, who is clearly intelligent and incredibly aware of the inequality within society is also tragically cynical – and carries her own cross to bear from a time in Texas. Thelma seems naive – but is, more likely, keen to keep a positive spin on life and refuses to be dogged-down by the ills of society. Men, on the other hand, are shown as desperate for power – primarily power over women, but additionally over each other.
The question that hovers over the film is the finale as Thelma and Louise, rather than give themselves up, decide to drive off the stunning cliff-faces of Arkansas. Are we to believe that there is no way out of our sexist, animalistic ways? Can we ever exist in an equal society, whereby women and men are seen as the same? Or are we destined to pass the blame of our own gender-issues onto each other …
Originally published/written for Man, I Love Films on 7 March 2013