Thelma & Louise – Feminism in Film done right?: An Opinion Piece

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This past week, I’d gotten the honor to catch the cult classic road trip film, Thelma & Louise at the recent Films At The Fort event (which BTW is an awesome annual event at Fort Canning) and the idea of writing a review came about.

However, that idea was canned almost immediately. Why? Because the film’s writing helped develop our lead characters so well in an environment where we are screaming for stronger female leads. The movie gives us strong justifications for their actions, explain their surprisingly human motivations, and *gasp* create strong female characters the audience could get behind.

And in a world where Ghostbusters (2017) exists, let’s take the time to discuss why I feel Hollywood can take a page out of Thelma & Louise‘s playbook in creating strong female characters. Let’s take a look!

Spoilers Ahead!!

A Little Backstory

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Thelma and Louise was a 1991 film which is about two ladies who go on a road trip/vacation and is caught up by crime and eventually runs from the law.

The film caught me by surprise for having a simple premise, and kept me wondering why it garnered so much praise at the beginning as it almost starts out like any 80s film where the main characters are middle class folks looking to go on a trip to get away from their ordinary and sometimes stressful lives.

After the intro ended and the story just kicked it into high gear immediately, the girls kill a man and go on the run from the law, along with some other encounters/adventures along the way.

Why it was so good: The writing was simple: woman kills a man, tries to run away from the law. Oh, and her best friend is along for the ride. That is a easy-to-understand situation but that’s not the strongest part of this film. Because like I mentioned, it’s the character development and personalities that steal the show.

 

Building Character
Unlike most films today, there was a strange pattern I noticed. The men in the film were mostly relegated to ‘villain’ roles. There were maybe two guys (The detective and Louise’s lover) that were not ‘bad guys’ at all.

We had Brad Pitt in the role of a drifting thief that stole Thelma and Louise’s money to escape to Mexico; Louise’s husband, Darryl, who was kinda an abusive and controlling husband; and the other guys, the police officers were portrayed as the people Thelma and Louise were running away from so they effectively play the ‘bad guys’.

Only the two I mentioned like Jimmy, played by Michael Madsen, was shown as caring towards Louise in the film but was quick to anger. We also have the detective, Hal, played by Harvey Keitel, who took on a role where he wanted to reduce the violence used to stop crimes by law enforcement officers, and played a sort of neutral character throughout.

 

Thelma and Louise: A Closer Look

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But what was truly show-stealing was the two female leads. And I’ll discuss both here, in detail.

Louise
L
ouise was played as the tough, seen-some-shit woman among the duo. She was mentioned to have had some trouble back in her hometown in Texas, and it was implied she got raped, which led to why she killed Thelma’s rapist early in the film.

She was written to have a plan in mind but just like people who find themselves in her situation, she only has a plan A, and when her plans are ruined because of Thelma or by other people, she is shown to panick but tries to stay calm for her best friend, Thelma.

Why it was so good: She was very human in the way she acted in the film, and likely the only sane person in a crazy film like Thelma & Louise, as she got herself into a life of a fugitive. And the writing was written for a female character who’s strong, independent, and human, which made her relate-able for many in the audience.

Thelma
This is the shining gem of the film of how a character shows development in a film. If Louise represents the humanity within the movie, Thelma is the embodiment of insanity and shows what a person can become when they’re released from restraints.

The message of “Always doubt a stranger’s motive” gets run by twice to the audience through her. She almost gets raped for being too naive while hanging out with a man at a bar and gets their money stolen by a thief played by a young Brad Pitt, by the name of J.D. but later on, she fully adapts to the life of a fugitive, robbing a bank to get some cash as well as threatening a police officer with a gun to save Louise in an encounter. She also shoots a gas truck because the driver was making pervy faces at the duo.

Why it was so good: “Remember to treat your wife and kids well. My husband didn’t, and look how I turned out.” – the penultimate quote to showing why Thelma was so well-written. She was initially a naive lady who got married too young and was promiscuous and almost cost her but later on, she was the source of comedy for the audience and a symbol of female power in the film, taking down a police officer and destroying a truck filled with gas just to send a message to the driver. Insane? Yes. Wonderful? YES.

 

A Conclusion
It sufficed to say I was almost greatly disappointed when the film started. Going in blind, I had no idea what to expect and I thought it was going to be a chick flick, tossing in a message about rape and how girls should show restraint, etc etc.

And I was surprised at how it turned out. The film was a fun take on the runaway fugitive(s) road trip film that clearly wanted to scream the message of girl power to the masses. Even at the end, the girls were not explicitly killed when they got surrounded by the police. Instead, they embraced their friendship for each other even more at the end as they rode off the cliff, instead of surrendering to the police – a symbol of a woman having no need to surrender to her ‘male captor’ – and turning our expectations on its head.

It’s absolutely brilliant and worth a watch if you have not seen it. And if you and a best friend have nothing to do over the weekend, this is the movie to catch. Even though it has a few flaws, it truly was a joyride for sure. Till next time!

Sherman

Images taken from:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103074/?ref_=ttmi_tt

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