June 19, 2011

Queer Review, Classic Review?: Thelma and Louise (1991)

Thelma and Louise
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Callie Khouri
Cast: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Brad Pitt

A story of two woman who go on a crime spree, Thelma and Louise contains one of the most iconic endings in movie history. At it's core, this is the story of a relationship between two repressed woman who find out what they are capable of while fleeing from their old lives.

Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) are two woman whose vacation plans go horribly awry . While stopping at a bar on their way out of town, they meet a handsome stranger, who Thelma spends most of the evening flirting and dancing with. When the two go outside however, he attempts to rape her, and she ends up being rescued by Louise, who ends up shooting and killing the attempted rapist. This results in Thelma and Louise running from the law, as they try to figure out how to survive in a world that is not friendly towards woman.

The Queering
I am of two minds about this movie in regards to there being a queer subtext, which I had heard about before viewing. On one hand there is clearly a strong bond between Louise and Thelma that transcends mere friendship and they even share a kiss in the closing moments of the movie. On the other hand, there is little evidence that this bond goes beyond the platonic. In other words, this is going to get both a classic review tag and queer review tag.

Thelma and Louise probably appeals most strongly to women, than it does for anyone else. That is not to say that other people could not enjoy this female empowrment romp, but that woman are more likely to appreciate what it offers. Most of the male characters are presented as jerks. Thelma's husband is a control freak who appears at any moment ready to lash out in an uncontrolled rage. In addition to the attempted rapist, there is also a truck driver who makes lewd offers to the two and a handsome young man, who seduces Thelma, only to steal all of the pair's money. In contrast, there are only two men with any decency. The Detective Hal (Harvey Keitel) who is investigating the murder and Jimmy (Michael Madsen) who is in love with Louise.

Overall, this is a well made movie and as I watch more and more of movies made more than two decades ago, I more and more find myself lamenting for a time when movies like this were able to get made. For example, it is difficult imagining the ending being used in today's filmmaking environment. The acting by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis is superb and Ridley Scott, not known for directing character driven pieces, somehow succeeds exceptionally well here.

Granted, there are plenty of formulas at work in Thelma and Louise, but they are well enough executed and with enough interesting variations, to keep it from feeling formulaic. The writing is both a curse and a weakness. While Callie Khouri successfully manages to develop two interesting and complex female leads, there are numerous small, yet noticeable, plot holes throughout. For example, how did Hal get the licence plate number for the car? And was I the only one who thought that the small army chasing down Louise and Thelma at the end was a tad over the top?

In any event, the strengths cancel out any weaknesses and I can only say that this is one damn fine motion picture.

Strongly recommended.

The Rating


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