From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Chicks Kick Ass
Thelma & Louise

There are times when you have to ask yourself "What would I be capable of doing when pushed to an extreme limit?" A lot of people I would imagine were asking that question of themselves after the events of 9-11. On a smaller scale, you might find yourself wondering what your limits are in a situation where a close friend loses a family member suddenly, or if someone you know were the victim of a violent crime. In the back of your head you think "There but for the grace of God go I. But what would I do if that were me?" Thelma & Louise is a story about two women who don't ask themselves that question. They find out first hand, the hard way. The answers they find are very revealing for both the characters and the audience.

Louise (Susan Sarandon) is a fairly normal person. She works as a waitress in a diner. She has a boyfriend named Jimmy (Michael Madsen), with whom she has a off again/on again type of relationship. She has a good friend named Thelma (Geena Davis). Thelma is living in a not so great marriage to the assistant manager of a used car dealership. She has a decent enough home, she doesn't really want for anything. But the marriage is largely unfulfilling. Her husband Darryl (Christopher McDonald) is a self absorbed asshole, who has to be the boss of everyone.

Louise decides to take a weekend road trip to go fishing. She has Thelma come along for the ride. Thelma does say a word to Darryl, knowing that if she did, he'd never let her out of the house. All she and Louise want to do is go out, let their hair down, and have a good time. Things take a turn for the worse when they stop at a roadhouse to have a few drinks and a bite to eat. Thelma has too much to drink, and gets too close to a friendly good ol' boy type who takes a shine to her. Before long, he has Thelma outside, on the verge of raping her Louise intervenes. The intervention turns deadly, the rapist is killed, and Thelma and Louise find themselves on the run, trying desperately to outsmart the law and outrace the cops to Mexico.

This is a movie frequently labeled as a "chick flick", which sorely undersells the feminist message that runs throughout the whole movie, as well as it's broad appeal as a solid, entertaining story. (Note: I am defining "chick flick" as sappy, formula romances or girly buddy movies. Think Pretty Woman or Romy and Michele's High School Reunion). There are several plot lines that comment on a number of women's issues both directly and indirectly. Louise fears calling the police immediately after the shooting in a way that Thelma doesn't really understand. All she knows is that it has to do with some deep seated fear Louise has of the state of Texas. It's as the story moves along that you come to understand why Louise fears Texas, and how it feeds into the shooting in the first place. It shines a lot of light on some of the gross inequities in the way the law can be enforced, and shows that the difference between justice and vengeance is not always easy to delineate.

As the two women move along on their forced road trip from hell, they come to learn a fair amount about both themselves and each other. Thelma is transformed from a meek, overly trusting and amiable type into a tough, aggressive, street savvy woman. Louise very early in the film comes off as the older, wiser party of the two. There's a point early on when she chastises Thelma for not telling Darryl she wants to go out with Louise for the weekend. She asks Thelma "Is he your husband or your father?" Yet for most of the first half of the movie, Louise is very much having to mother/nursemaid Thelma to keep her out of trouble. Once the shooting has occurred, there's a sequence of events on the road trip that seem to end every time with Louise asking Thelma "Why in the hell did you do that?" When Thelma crosses over the line, it's a shock to Louise, as she sees herself go from having to take Thelma by the hand everywhere they go, to having to run hard just to keep up.

These women are tough as nails. By the end of the movie, they kicked a little ass, taken some names, and demonstrated they are a force to be reckoned with. Most of all, for the first time in either of their lives, they feel truly free and unencumbered by anyone else's expectations. There's a point late in the movie when after speaking to the detective who's been tracking them (Hal, a very nice subdued role for Harvey Keitel), Thelma and Louise consider what their options are. They have to think about whether it's in their interests to give themselves up and take their chances with the law, or keep on going and wind either across the border, or shot down by the cops. Thelma looks at Louise and tells her she doesn't want to give up.

"But, umm, I don't know, you know, something's, like, crossed over in me and I can't go back, I mean I just couldn't live."

When pushed to the edge to find out you have no limits, it's hard to imagine anyone else making a different choice than these two women did. The ending is one of those "event endings" where most everyone who saw the movie couldn't help but talk about it after they'd seen it, much to chagrin of those who hadn't seen it. I vaguely remember going to see the movie on a date with a girl I knew while I was in high school. I remember coming out of the movie being more satisfied with the ending than she was. All I could say then, and what I say now, is that given the characters as they're presented to us, it was the right way to bring the story to a close. It's a choice few filmmakers make, due to the pressures of the studio heads to have an ending that "tests" well. This is one of the times when they got it absolutely right.

Tomorrow, we go old school again with Police Woman's Angie Dickinson on the run from the law as a bootlegger in Big Bad Mama. Update Change of schedule. Big Bad Mama has been moved to Saturday, and Kill Bill is up today (Thursday, 4/15).