As Thelma & Louise celebrates 25 years of being, we look at the ultimate female road trip film and see just how, and why, it has stood the test of time.
Directed by South Shields’ own (!) Ridley Scott, the film’s plot centres around the aftermath of an attempted rape: Whilst on a girls’ fishing trip, a nasty fella in the parking lot of a bar gets a little too heavy-handed with Thelma (Geena Davis), which leads to Louise (Susan Sarandon) shooting him dead. The pair then goes on the run from police in a chase that takes them from Arkansas to the Grand Canyon, and to one of the greatest, and most-debated, endings to a movie there ever was. SPOILER ALERT: Thelma and Louise drive their Ford Thunderbird, hand-in-hand, right off a cliff into the Canyon, the frame freezing as the car flies into oblivion.
It is widely looked at now as an iconic piece of feminist art work but lest we forget, the motion picture landscape was very different 25 years ago. At the time, whilst acclaimed by many, the film also had critics a plenty. It was accused of promoting casual sex and casual misandry, amongst other despicable things. However, whilst the world has moved on ever so slightly, it could be argued that the feminist movement, like our protagonists’ fleeing from the police, is a long road to be travelled. Just look at Jennifer Lawrence, and her article last year questioning the pair gap between male and female actors.
The film constantly raises the question: Why would the police believe them? They’re women. A question that is sadly still raised now and has as bleak an answer as it did back then. As Callie Khouri, writer of the film’s Oscar-winning screenplay, explained of the final scene: “They flew away, out of this world and into the mass unconscious. Women who are completely free from all the shackles that restrain them have no place in this world. The world is not big enough to support them.”
Geena Davis has been vocal about the fact that, whilst now iconic, the film actually changed nothing for women in film. “After Thelma & Louise, which was pretty noticed and potent and significant, [people were saying] ‘This changes everything! There’s going to be so many female buddy movies!’ and nothing changed,” she told The Guardian last year.
“And then the next movie I did was A League of Their Own, which was a huge hit, and all the talk was, ‘Well now, beyond a doubt, women’s sports movies, we’re going to see a wave of them because this was so successful.’ That’s balls. It took 10 years until Bend It Like Beckham came out. So, there was no trend whatsoever.”
The film is also notable for the introduction of a young Brad Pitt as JD (a handsome stranger and not the aforementioned nasty man) Pitt, then a blue-eyed young lad, beat out George Clooney for the role. However, his character, JD, a con artist, serves as much more than eye candy. He gives Thelma a sexual awakening. He makes her feel like she has some worth, unlike her controlling husband Darryl (Christopher McDonald). This flip of the woman in sexual control adds an interesting dynamic to the usually-male stereotype.
Thelma & Louise is so many things. Aside from fantastic performances from its leading ladies and breathtaking cinematography, it is a revenge story, a cowboy (or girl) film, and road trip adventure – all held together by two fierce female characters. Whether or not the ending is sad or tragic is not the point, really. The point is that it is a glorious piece of work, one that celebrates the strength of female friendship and one that we should be grateful was ever made.
25 years on, you’d be lucky if it was even made today.