Thelma & Louise: Seminal female buddy film. Equal parts road trip movie and crime drama and feminist anthem.
I don't remember the first time I saw Thelma & Louise, but I remember knowing how it ended before I understood what it was about. Louise's green Thunderbird rocketing off the edge of a cliff is an image cemented in the collective unconsciousness alongside the final shootout in Scarface and Indiana Jones racing ahead of that wayward boulder.
I still wonder what I missed by knowing that image the way I do. What was it like to come to this movie in 1991? The year of the Clarence Thomas trial, moments away from "The Year of the Woman" in '92, and a year of pop culture chock full of Goodfellas, The Godfather, and peak Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then smack in the middle of it all, Thelma & Louise put pedal to the metal as they crashed into cinemas across the country.
God only knows what you thought if you'd only seen the trailer.
Is it a comedy? An early era rom-com? Some kind of chick flick?
The short answers to each are: Yes and no. Definitely not. And maybe.
The long answer is something else entirely.
Nothing really prepared me for Thelma & Louise when I finally saw it. I knew I loved it. There I was, something like 18 years old, and I wanted adventure and an escape and the wind in my hair and my best friend at my side. I saw Thelma & Louise and saw people I wanted to be.
They didn't need the men in their lives, but the men needed them. They didn't apologize for themselves, but you were sure they were right, so they didn't need to. They had the kind of intense, sisterly friendship I worked so hard to mimic in my own relationships.
Growing up, I was never one for the big, brash group hangouts that permeated teen life on the WB. There was no convenient group of three girls and three guys spending every Friday night at the mall. There was no equivalent to “The Max” or “The Peach Pit.”
I was someone who was most herself as the other half of a duo. I wanted to pour half of my heart into someone else so she'd know me completely and I'd know her. Whenever you saw me coming, you could be sure that whoever my other half was, she wouldn't be far behind.
And so looking at Thelma and Louise, this powerful pair that loves each other so fully and so deeply, I could see shades of myself and the women I'd befriended and loved.
On rewatching this movie to prepare for this week's essays, I wondered if it would hold up. I remembered the errant tweet of a favorite blogger of mine proclaiming that he loved it despite how terribly it withstood the test of time. I'd seen it last only a few years prior, but still . . . was he right? When I watched it again with fresh eyes and more years and wisdom under my belt, would it disappoint me?
I should have known better.
As sharp as ever, Ridley Scott's road flick for women pulls no punches. The only signs of wear are in how very obviously this is not so much a women's movie, but specifically a white women's movie. Indeed, there's not a single person of color prominently visible in the film, much less one with a speaking role. The same is true for most of Hollywood, though, so it's by no means a unique failing, but it's a failing nonetheless.
Still, there are moments that speak to every woman. Every woman has seen a man like Harlan. Not all of us have been raped, but it's a safe bet that we know someone who was. Together we fear it and fight against it and try to protect ourselves from the whims of someone else.
Thelma & Louise speaks to all of that and the way it feels to carry that fear with you.
But what's even more important than that is the strength, power, and beauty that the film wraps these devastating truths in. The movie is no punishing slog of pain and tears. We cheer for them more than we fear for them. We laugh with them more than we cry. For me, on top of all of this, it still lights a fire in me.
I watch it and I still get the same rush: I want adventure and the wind in my hair and my best friend at my side. I think about watching this movie before I got just that. I was 23 and my best friend and I were setting out on a 4,500-mile round-trip journey into the great American west, to Big Sky Country, to Portland, the Badlands.
Thelma in her gas-station tee, Louise in her steely aviators: they were the epitome of cool, and they were wild and free.
That's what makes this movie, on its 25th anniversary so special, and it's why we'll certainly be celebrating its 30th and 50th and all the other anniversaries to come.
Here's what to expect this week:
- A discussion of how Thelma & Louise fits in with Ridley Scott's career
- A look a the title characters as feminist anti-heroes
- In-depth scene analysis of the film's iconic final scenes
- Related Review of another 1991 female buddy film, Fried Green Tomatoes
- And more!