Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Neo-Feminist Road Movie

Twenty years ago, Thelma & Louise hit the theaters. The movies starts off as a "buddy movie" as Thelma (Geena Davis), a housewife, and Louise (Susan Sarandon), a single waitress, head out for a two-day fishing trip in a '66 Thunderbird. But on their way, troubles occur that send the ladies onto a path of violence and lawlessness, transforming it into a neo-western "outlaw" story. The film's plot is vigorous and dynamic as the protagonists turn from being helpless victims of a misogynistic society to empowered deciders of their own destiny.

I remember when the Friday night when it opened. My group of friends was deciding what we were going to see at the theaters that evening. I voted for Backdraft, an arson-based action thriller starring Kurt Russell. The other two males of the group voted for Hudson Hawk, a stupid action comedy starring Bruce Willis, an actor that I absolutely can't stand. The three women of our group kept a united vote for Thelma & Louise. And so the ladies won the night.

Expecting two hours of man-hating, I settled in for the movie. (Anyways, it couldn't be worse than Hudson Hawk, right?)

The story surprised me.

I have great admiration for the archetypes and themes of Westerns. Standing up to injustice, fighting against the wicked, defiantly proclaiming the dignity of the Individual, these are important themes to me. Yes, the genre conventions can get a bit over-the-top, but that's just the narrative equivalent of hierarchical proportion. The actions are extreme because they are symbolic of a greater conflict.

Viewing the movie in this manner, I felt deep empathy for the protagonists. From their point of view, I could see the pervasive misogyny of their world. I could understand how they reacted as they did. They were not "Bitches from Hell" but heroic rebels against an unjust order. The ending has an unforgettable Alamo-like defiance.

As I left the theater, I felt emotionally drained but inspired. I had a lot to think about.

Even twenty years later.

Here's a link to the Thelma & Louise Wikipedia page.

And here's a link to Marianne Faithfull's Wikipedia page.

Here's an interesting story from NPR, "Looking Back on 'Thelma & Louise' 20 Years Later"


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