Friday, November 11, 2011

The Appeal of Thelma & Louise; a buddy movie about two women on the run

Stella Atrium 11.11.11

The 20th anniversary of Thelma & Louise was in February 2011.
T&L car
Critics claimed the movie directed by Ridley Scott broke stereotypes and allowed female characters to step out of a corseted past into liberated action.  Never mind the movie presents women acting like men would act.  Never mind that Thelma robs a store only after she receives instruction from a drifter.

Once again, the characters we love don't solve problems the way women solve them, but rather ape the actions of the men. Where are their mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, best friends, daughters?

T&L gunsMovies about women must appeal to men, even when the male characters are secondary, as with a sympathetic policeman played by Harvey Keitel and ex-boyfriend played by Michael Madsen. The movie audience was mostly men, and they liked the idea of women on a lark with 2% body fat and oversized handguns.  We still have the standard scenes for car chases, gun violence, fiery explosions, and a hero's ending.  The twist is that women get to blow up stuff.

Except are they liberated? Or... are they just acting like a guy would act in similar situation?  Maybe a woman would find other ways to hide by changing her looks and blending in, or entering a brothel where the police never investigate.

In Thelma & Louise a struggling waitress and repressed housewife take off one day while the husband is fishing.  They stop to cat-around at a dance hall, and Thelma (Geena Davis) is pressured by a drunken cowboy who Louise (Susan Sarandon) shoots with her Texas-purchased gun. Adventures on the run after the feminist statement include picking up a drifter, scaring a truck driver, packing a cop into his car trunk, calling home to bring down the police, and sprinting toward the Mexican border.

The 1974 movie Thunderbolt & Lightfoot (Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges) depicted drifters in a similar socio-economic strata. ClintJeff
Lightfoot is beaten by bad guys who pursue them, and the tension between Lightfoot and Thunderbolt is tentative friendship built on a common need to escape jeopardy.  They end badly, too, when Lightfoot dies of injuries from the beating.  We expect less of this movie, though, and treasure it for the performances.

What social wrong was righted in Thelma & Louise?  Besides the eye-candy, what did we learn about ourselves? I'm reminded of the old adage that "she acted like a man because she was treated like a woman".

The scenes are well played, especially when Thelma says, "Something broke inside me," but Thelma & Louise is ultimately unsatisfying.

over cliffI object mostly to the ending when the pair drive over a cliff rather than return to society and face jail time.

Many have claimed this ending shows that there's no place in real life for rogue women; except Thelma and Louise aren't acting like women.  The pair is acting like they think the men would act, all the way to driving off into the sunset.  

Young women today mention Thelma & Louise as a shining example of liberated acts, of improvising, of getting a little of her own back.  I despair for our young girls who have few role models and must fit behavior into unnatural patterns to find acceptance among peers who believe that women should act like the guys.  

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