Even in today’s growing world of feminism, young girls, as well as grown women, are being taught by the media to organize their lives around men. Their needs, expectations, work schedules, ideas, and interests become second to the men in their lives. All too often the media associates power and status to men, only to strengthen the barriers between the male and female genders. Take for example Hollywood, where “women get only about a third of all movie and TV roles, and last year earned less than male actors in all age categories… Eby, 1).
And even though gender should not be used as the determining factor of what one can and cannot do, Hollywood, as well as everywhere else, has proven that the old habits of gender discrimination die hard, if at all. Luckily, there exist screenwriters and filmmakers who aren’t afraid to step outside the limitations of gender, stirring up some controversy. Callie Khouri, creator of “Thelma and Louise” is the exception to this rule.
Awarded “Best Original Screenplay”, the film challenges our preconceived notions of gender limitations by “giving a feminine twist to a pair of all too familiar Hollywood genres, the road picture and the buddy picture”(NY Times, 1991). The “road and buddy movie” usually calls for men in the lead roles, whereas “Thelma and Louise” called for Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. A film such as this one allowed for two women to get into dangerous trouble, enjoy themselves, and “unmask the other sex”; actions normally reserved for men (NY Times, 1991).
According to Ms. Khouri, the script of “Thelma and Louise” was infact, “a conscious effort to counter what [she] sees as Hollywood’s tendency to limit women’s roles to easily identifiable types such as bimbos, whores, and nagging wives”(NY Times, 1991). She therefore uses the characters in the movie not so much to prove a point, but instead to make a point. At the same time that Ms. Khouri is making her point, the movie becomes somewhat of a catharsis for women. “Thelma and Louise” is supposed to be “about what every woman knows”(Eby,4). Though rape is a major issue that is used in the movie, it is not supposed to be the only issue women relate to.
The general comparison between the women on screen and the women in the audience should be the feeling of at one time or another having been threatened, having been treated as inferior, or having found oneself in situations where a woman’s voice is never louder than a man’s. One example of a cathartic, yet controversial scene would be that in which Louise kills Thelma’s assailant, Harlan. This scene itself carries a great deal of symbolism. Harlan, the rapist who is eventually shot, becomes a representation of all things that hold women back.
He becomes the wall which holds back women from fulfilling their “wishes, ambitions, pleasures, and impulses”(NY Times, 1991). Thelma is who we are, a prisoner behind this wall and Louise is who we want to become… the prisoner who breaks free and confronts those who held her back. Another cathartic scene is that in which Thelma and Louise confront the truck driver who has been harassing them the entire distance of their road trip. That truck driver is someone almost every woman has dealt with at some time or another. “There is not a woman in the world who has not dealt with that guy.
He is out there in force, but when you’re walking down the street and guys do that, what you’re supposed to do as a woman is ignore it”(LA Times, 1991). After ignoring the truck driver throughout most of the movie, Thelma and Louise take a stand, not only for themselves but also for all the women who have wished they could say something back, but haven’t for whatever reason it may be. All the suppressed emotions and unsaid words of both the woman on screen and those sitting in the audience manifest themselves into an explosion which blows up the truck driver’s sense of power… not to mention the truck itself.
Feminism has often been confused with male-bashing, as is the case with the motivation behind “Thelma and Louise”. According to Ms. Khouri, “its none of these things”(LA Times, 1991). The movie is a role reversal which gives women the opportunity to shine in the lead role, a concept which seems to make the male population uneasy. For those who claim that the movie is a ‘chick revenge flick’, Ms. Khouri adds, “you can’t do a movie without villains”(LA Times, 1991). In this case, the villains happen to be of the male gender. It is the male characters in the movie which make our leading ladies who they are and who they later turn out to be.
These men who either desire, fear, hate, or need these women become somewhat of a motivation to break free from their current situations. The movie seems to use the premise that woman will never be totally free from men, except as we see, possibly in death. Throughout the movie, the male characters never give up trying to control, exploit, punish or save Thelma and Louise. Watching the movie, it is important to note how each man, one after the other, pursues these women and will not them go. Not even Hal, the one man who seems to understand Thelma and Louise, can let them go.
He can’t help but feel the need to save the two woman, even “as he chases their car as Louise floors it and the ’66 T-Bird sails out over the edge of the Canyonlands Cliff”(Eby, 2). Though the movie is about two women ‘finding themselves’, it is the men surrounding them who define their roles. Darryl, Thelma’s husband is just one example. Thelma, when introduced to the audience resembles somewhat of a naive, helpless child going away on her own for the first time. She has apparently never gone away without Darryl and she can’t even bring herself to tell him that she is going away for the weekend.
As Louise puts it, Darryl who is like the parent rather a husband, defines Thelma’s role. “For Christ sake, Thelma is he your husband or your father? Its just two days… Don’t be a child”. Darryl’s role as the domineering and protective husband/father figure has created the Thelma introduced to us in the beginning of the movie; he has also helped create the Thelma which we the audience have come to grow with and identify with at the end of he movie. Another important aspect of the movie is the transformation which both women undergo.
In order to intensify the significance of the final transformation, it is important to note how the two women are introduced. Note that in the beginning of the movie, Thelma is introduced to the audience as a “somewhat wacky, small town Arkansas housewife, under the thumb of a chauvinistic husband”(LA Times, 1991). She is presented as young and pretty with wild hair and skimpy outfits. As we see in the packing scene in which she prepares for her weekend getaway, she is cluttered, wrinkled, and unorganized. Louise on the other hand is a “strong-willed coffee shop waitress who seemingly has everything under control”(LA Times, 1991).
She is incredibly neat and organized, wears boring clothes compared to Thelma, and has tamed hair. As the audience watches her in the packing scene, we notice that “she packs her sneakers into a Ziplock bag and washes the lone dirty glass in the sink before heading off… “(Eby, 2). Unlike Thelma, Louise understands men well enough to know when to hate them (Harlan, the rapist), to fear them, to suspect them (JD, the hitchhiker), to love them (Jimmy, her boyfriend), and to respect them (Hal, the detective). Throughout the movie, the roles slowly seem to reverse.
Louise had been the one in charge and in control, but slowly she begins to snap under the pressure. In one particular scene, the role reversal becomes most obvious to the audience. Louise finds out that Thelma has left JD alone in her hotel room with the money which Jimmy had brought them. By the time the girls make it back to the room, JD and the money are long gone. Louise comes to the realization that the control she once possessed has now escaped her. Thelma, who watches as her friend crumbles before her eyes, realizes that she needs to break free from her child-like persona and take control of the situation.
Thelma takes on a new sense of responsibility and maturity. She gives Louise a chance to finally let her guard down. “This is a movie about the adventures of women, and that’s rare. And that really sad that its rare and we can’t think of another movie like this”(LA Times, 1991). Thelma and Louise was a movie written and produced to give women an opportunity to finally tell their story in a society where the media is all too often dominated by males. This was an opportunity to move females from the roles of girlfriend and side interest into the leading role. It is no longer about a man’s experiences and a man’s adventures.