In 1991, women finally hit the road. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991) is a daunting trailblazer when the Road Movie genre has fallen into a predictable pattern and it successfully explores a new mode of character’s relationship in the Road Movie: we’ve seen one man on the road in Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984), swaying between his affection towards wife and son and his own search for self and origin; we are quite familiar with narration of two men on the road, for example, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969), the duo bank-robbers on the run; we would certainly never forget one man and one woman running in a crime spree in the epic Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967); sure, there are a group of people on the road, say, Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939): a number of strangers riding in the same wagon through the Apache region. This time, with no man or equivalent authority as a guardian or salvation, women are on their own fighting, struggling and making decisions.
It is supposed to be a mere weekend trip for the bored waitress Louise and desperate housewife Thelma, who are going out for fun since both get stuck in relationships with men and want to have some fresh air in the mountains: Louise has a longtime guitar player boyfriend Jimmy who is not able to make a commitment and Thelma’s puppy love sweetheart Darryl turns out an idiotic control freak after marriage. A stop at the Silver Bullet Bar proves to be their undoing: a playboy Harlan wants to rape Thelma after a few drinks and a heating dance.
‘Luckily’ for Thelma, Louise manages to rescue her with the gun Thelma takes along; in fact Louise is so mad at Harlan’s provocative manners and ill remarks that she shoots him dead on the spot. Before this crime scene, the trip is a joy with something uplifting to expect; now, it becomes a torture like the end of the world. Louise tells Thelma that going to the police and making a confession would not even be an option because too many in the bar have seen their intimate dance and probably would take it as an agreed intercourse rather than rape. Here comes the start of a comic tragedy.
At the crossroad of life, with no faith in law or justice, Louise holds that they have to go rogue. When asked about her solution of this irrevocable shooting, Thelma bursts out crying like a baby after her idea of going to the police once again being rejected. Louise has to stay cool and controlled all by herself to figure out a possible way out: she finally reaches Jimmy, who is just back from a tour and agrees to send her $ 6,700 without knowing the reason. Back on the road again, Louise can hardly conceal her anger and she shouts at Thelma that “every time that we get into trouble you just get blank or plead insanity or some such shit. Not this time. I mean, this time things have changed. Everything’s changed. ” This line is an impetus to Thelma’s later transformation, a reminder of the difficult situation and a motto to encourage both remaining collected and being responsible.
For anybody who wants to grow up, there are necessary losses to let go as no one can satisfy everybody and nobody is perfect. Thelma obeys Darryl because of sweet memories from high school and the commitment of a marriage, but when she realizes her marriage is based on her patience towards Darryl and the conventional concept of a ‘wife’ in a patriarchal system, she says in the phone “Darryl, you are my husband, not my father.” This of course makes Darryl hit the roof and this marks the second time of Thelma’s attempt to be independent (the first is ‘sneaking off’ home without telling Darryl).
Jimmy conquers his flying-phobia and flies to Oklahoma in person to give the money Louise needed since he is now afraid of losing her. He even proposes to Louise with a ring, which is all she dreamt of in the past few years. It is interesting to notice that there are at least six rings on her fingers: possibly serving as substitutes when she fails to get a ring from the man she loves, she buys rings for herself. It could be a comfort for the weary heart, a sign of self-sufficiency and a longing for love and settlement. However, what has been done can not be undone. Burdened with the tough status quo, she is forced to let go of an anticipated ‘happy ending’ with her boyfriend although she wants to settle down.
Women have been gazed through out the cinematic history. Finally comes the moment of men being gazed and judged in the 1990s. J. D. (Brat Pitt) is a good-looking young man in a cowboy hat, not the wife-beater type as Darryl is. Through their talk, we get to know Darryl is Thelma’s first love and her only date. Suffocated in her premature marriage for long, Thelma is immediately attracted to the smooth talker J. D., who happens to have a cute face and nice body. Some would argue that the love scene right after the Harlan incident is too quick for audience to accept. Well, these audience fail to recognize the frisky and somewhat frivolous nature of Thelma and it is important to show that women, not a secondary species to men, are born to choose the timing, place, and the specific person that they would like to be with.
Thelma is so fascinated with J.D. that even his confession as a robber does not scare her or discourage her interest and curiosity towards some other man other than Darryl. If the night in the hotel with J.D. is Thelma’s first taste of proper sex, then the morning that she finds J.D. has run away with the future fund of $6,700 to Mexico is a startling lesson about human nature. This is a turning point of the relationship between Thelma and Louise.
Louise obviously has a breakdown discovering the envelope is empty of money. From then on, she loses both the man she loves and the money she would utilize to make a future life. What is worse, she is not to blame her best friend Thelma because if she could have kept the money herself considering Thelma’s careless record. Both have a misjudgment: Louise should not leave the money with Thelma since in the beginning of the trip, when asked how much money she’s got, Thelma loses a 20 dollar bill in the wind while counting — if Louise is insightful enough, she should have taken it as a warning that Thelma is by no means a good accountant. Also, Thelma should not trusted J.D. and leaves him and the money alone in the room after J.D. has expresses that he is a robber on parole. Nevertheless, Thelma seems to be grown up overnight, and says firmly “Louise, just don’t you worry about it. … Get your stuff and let’s get out of it. … Move!” while Louise is weeping disheartenedly.
A quick learner, Thelma uses the line she picks up from J.D. and robs a store, securing enough money and liquor for the ensuing trip. At the same time, unaware of Thelma’s shocking attempt, Louise sits in the car and gets sad and alert seeing an old woman through the glass. Sad as it might be her future if she chooses to lead a ‘normal’ life. Alert because she is still young and it is the right time for her to do something to preserve her beauty so she fetches the lipstick and tries to wear some makeup. It is the very despairing thought that they are actually on the run without gas fee urges her to throw the lipstick away. She plunges into thoughts and is waken up to reality by Thelma’s shout “Drive, Louise, Drive!” The only way out is to drive on: the minute she shoots Harlan, there is no turning back.
Each interval between the trip scenes drives one step closer towards their liberation. They both learn from the things they have experienced and the people they have met. Louise trades all her rings, earrings and watch for a cowboy hat and recovers from the sorrow of the lost money and everything else. By then, she would not need those feminine accessories any more; instead, a cowboy hat is her goodbye to the past fragility, a manifesto to gather strength and spirit in times of adversary, a symbol of her new androgyny identity.
After locking a state trooper against his relentless chase, they give a lesson to the truck driver who makes stupid faces all along the trip. Not receiving any apology for his rude behavior, they shoot the fuel tank of the truck to explode. This explosion is like the volcano of their pent up emotion, erupting after all those twists and turns and this further indicates their impending doom.
When asked about the vacation, Thelma says: “I guess I went a little crazy, huh?” Louise refutes: “No, you’ve always been crazy. This is just the first chance you’ve ever had to really express yourself.” Not long after that, they both choose to fly down the Grand Canyon, rather than to be arrested, interrogated and sentenced to prison.
In The Second Sex, Simone De Bouviour wrote: “[Woman] is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.” It is almost 100 years later since film has been invented that women finally get the right to choose and decide their own destiny. Thelma and Louise indulge themselves in this fleeting joy, devastate the conventions in the society, cast away their fear and anxiety, and pay for what they have done on this grand ‘jailbreaking’. This film is an ode to those who dare to fight against injustice and fight for liberation at any cost.