Rewatching Thelma & Louise 30 years after its release
Despite having watched Thelma & Louise so many times since its release in 1991 that we know the lines off by heart, the most recent rewatch revealed a few (more) things, as is the nature of seeing a favourite film over and over.
We microwaved the buttered popcorn and made hot chocolate and settled in.
Its issues are still relevant today
On the whole, the movie has aged well; apart from the mom jeans and denim on denim that is. We questioned the plot way more than we did in our younger days, and laughed at some of the random background action, like the muscled guy in short shorts lifting weights. What? The inclusion of distinctly “arty” shots of old weathered people sitting, silently expressionless, while beautiful, seem at odds with the rest of the film.
But the themes of female friendship and bonding, as well as rape, vulgar catcalling, cheating, controlling husbands and opportunistic hotties with nefarious intentions are all still relevant issues in 2021, which is quite sad, really.
“The film that went on to become a feminist cult classic was released in May 1991; in 30 years, a lot has changed for women, but a lot has remained the same in a male-dominated society that still seeks to crush women’s autonomy,” says Free Press Journal in an article this very week (contains spoilers).
What about the ending?
It’s hard to imagine anyone not knowing how the movie ends, even if they’ve never watched it. Fans have spent literal decades debating what the ending means. In our discussion after the latest viewing, I posited that the film’s ending was the best possible conclusion: anything else and Hollywood would have been all over that action with sequels that would most likely disappoint. The ending preserved the movie’s integrity, and was intended to be metaphorical rather than literal flight to freedom.
Thelma & Louise was created and written by Callie Khouri. Her debut earned her a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay respectively. She went on to direct Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Mad Money. In 2012 she developed the country music series Nashville; her husband T Bone Burnett was the show’s executive music producer and composer for the first season.
A Thelma & Louise cheatsheet
The stars are Susan Sarandon (Louise) and Geena Davis (Thelma), who set off for a weekend at a mountain cabin in Louise’s green Thunderbird convertible. Thelma leaves behind her thoroughly unlikable husband, Darryl (Christopher McDonald), who “works late” a lot but wants to keep his wife safely at home, not gallivanting around the country with Louise, whom he calls a bad influence … which is why Thelma leaves him a note.
En route to the cabin, Thelma begs Louise to stop at a bar because she wants to let her hair down and have fun. There, they meet Harlan (Timothy Carhart) who plies Thelma with drinks, then goes outside with her to the parking lot. He’s a nasty piece of work, and when Thelma attempts to reject his amorous advances, he becomes violent and slams her against the bonnet of a car and tries to rape her. Louise comes to the rescue with Darryl’s gun (which Thelma had packed along with the fishing rods and a huge suitcase of clothes). It could have ended there but Harlan just had to mouth off and get himself shot.
And so Thelma and Louise are on the run instead of relaxing for a couple of days as they had planned. Along the way they meet JD – the role that catapulted gorgeous 26-year-old Brad Pitt into his film career. He wasn’t even the first choice for the role of the small-time paroled robber who gives Thelma the idea to fix her mistake, which results in Louise’s life savings being stolen.
Then there is the offensively obnoxious truck driver the women repeatedly encounter on the road. Thelma and Louise’s response is one of my favourite scenes. On the flip side is saviour and sympathiser lawman Hal Slocum (Harvey Keitel), who does everything he can to bring the women in safely.
A good story with strong women characters
It’s easy to pigeonhole the movie as a man-bashing feminist platform – and it’s attracted controversy over the decades for this – but Khouri says if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll be disappointed. It was never her intention; she simply wanted to tell a good story that featured strong female characters.
“If you’re looking for a feminist manifesto you will be disappointed,” she said in a 1991 interview with Chicago Tribune. But “it does have a feminine outlook. I think of feminism as more of a political ideology. I think the issues in the movie are more humanist.”
Said Geena Davis, on the 25th anniversary of the film: “But originally, Thelma & Louise was simply a buddy film. Nobody had any idea that it would strike a nerve the way it did. I just knew it was unusual because it had two incredibly well-written female characters.”
Road trip, anyone?