Thelma & Louise

Year: 1991
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, Harvey Keitel
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

With JumpCut UK celebrating the best of women in film this week, with a special ladies week edition of WatchThisSpace, I was inspired (or forcibly instructed) by Molly Dolan to finally watch ‘Thelma & Louise’. I knew this was a classic, and I was very familiar with the final, iconic shot, so I half knew what was coming in terms of the plot. What I hadn’t quite envisaged though, was the fantastic balance of humour, character development and strong social messages that would come out of a film directed by Ridley Scott. Yes, the same Ridley Scott who may as well live in space and make bad movies out there for all I cared. At least now, I can say he’s done one thing right.

Thelma (Geena Davis) is stuck in an abusive relationship, afraid to do anything without her husband’s consent, which she never gets. So when her best friend Louise (Susan Sarandon) invites her on a fun road trip for the weekend, Thelma decides to pack her bags and make a break for it. This little holiday soon descends into a huge police search party, as local policeman Hal (Harvey Keitel) attempts to bring the girls back safely amidst a murder investigation. From Arkansas to Mexico, via the Grand Canyon, Thelma and Louise make friends and plenty of enemies, and cause a whole lot of trouble with their newfound freedom and impulsive decisions.

As I mentioned before, the character development of the leading ladies in this film is absolutely magnificent. Susan Sarandon begins as a strong, spontaneous, confident woman, but soon loses control as her traumatic experiences catch up with her. Geena Davis on the other hand, goes right the other way, transforming from a naive and submissive character into someone who thrives on the empowering experiences this road trip has provided for her. It was genuinely so pleasing to see Thelma finally say “go fuck yourself” to her vile husband, and it is a real testament to her character’s likability and endearing persona that this becomes one of the highlights of the film. The chemistry between Sarandon and Davis is truly something to behold. In both the dramatic scenes and in moments of humour, the pair are absolutely outstanding and could not be more deserving of their respective Oscar nominations. Either one could have gone home with the award for Actress in a Leading Role, had it not been for the great success of ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ that year.

These two brilliant actresses may be the stars of the show, but I have to give a mention to Harvey Keitel, who upholds a charming and entertaining performance throughout. His relatively brief appearance in ‘Pulp Fiction’ is great, but this is now my favourite Keitel acting display. This film also provided the break into Hollywood for a young Brad Pitt, who is thankfully utilised as more than just an attractive love interest. His charisma, confidence and wit are instead put to good use as what is ultimately a rather interesting support character.

Whilst I’m still not entirely sold on the directorial skills of Ridley Scott, I have a lot more respect for him now that I’ve seen ‘Thelma & Louise’. To put together a film about strong women is not something I would have associated with Scott, and whilst the actual stylistic features of this film aren’t particularly special, the project as a whole really is. So credit where credit’s due for that move. The real reason this film is successful though, is down to the impeccable writing of Callie Khouri, who penned such a simple yet effective screenplay and created wonderfully rich characters; a screenplay which ultimately won her an Academy Award. The main thing is, these characters aren’t just crazed killers or fiery criminals, they are pushed and pushed and in the end that is why we forgive their crimes and urge them on to freedom. Because of this, you can relate to these women, regardless of gender or life experience; it doesn’t matter who they are, they’ve got a story, and a motive that you believe and empathise with every step of the way.

I promised I would only review this film if I reacted positively to it. Luckily, I knew very quickly that I would be taking on this review. ‘Thelma & Louise’ is funny, interesting and most importantly, it’s relevant. It’s a sad fact, but the themes of domestic abuse and sexual harassment that we witness in the narrative here are still prominent today. And the issues of gender inequality and the underrepresentation of women in film, that this film looked to combat, are just as pressing. All of these issues should not exist in 2015. ‘Thelma & Louise’ is proof enough that females are equal to men in every way, and this film should be heralded as a fine example of what women can do when they’re allowed to express themselves.

Jakob’s rating: 8.4 out of 10