THELMA AND LOUISE – A WOMAN’S FILM?
FEBRUARY 22ND, 2012
a brief excerpt…
Thelma and Louise is typically categorized under the genres road film and buddy film. However, this film portrays two rebellious women, Geena Davis as Thelma and Susan Sarandon as Louise, on a life altering journey of empowerment and transformation. I would like to analyze this film under the lens of the women’s film. Looking at the film quickly, one would assume that yes, this is a great women’s film because it involves two strong women who journey together and find satisfaction in their lives. It seems incredibly feminist. But let’s define the term “women’s film” first. Altman claims that a women’s film “is a film that has a woman at the centre of the story” (72). He also states that “one of the major tasks of feminist film criticism over the past twenty years has been to rehabilitate the term ‘woman’s film’ and thereby restore value to women’s activities” (77). Thelma and Louise is a film about two women on an adventure, yes, but it also attempts to extend the range of opportunities for women and how society views them.
Throughout the film, Thelma and Louise are able to find empowerment, liberation, and sexual freedom. They become new women—guns blazing and the road open for them—even though they are technically criminals and fugitives. Thelma and Louise also display a “certain image of femininity” (Altman 74). They may be running from their pasts and the police, but they take the time to do their hair and their make-up. Thelma and Louise harass men who use profanity and obscene gestures towards women, like Harlan and the truck driver. We do not see them stray from the iconic beauty of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon until the pair stops at a convenience store. Thelma goes inside to rob it, while unknowing Louise sits in the car. She goes to apply lipstick, but upon seeing two old women, she gives up. She realizes she will never fit in with society again and she will most likely not age like those women. Thelma becomes liberated by her experience, but Louise becomes wiser and sheds her jewelry.
Thelma: Something’s crossed over in me and I can’t go back. I mean, I just couldn’t live.
At this point in the film, Thelma and Louise’s hair has become dishelved and sweat has appeared on their chest and underarms. We realize how real their situation has become; they may be free from the confinements of their old lives, but they are still stuck within the confinements of the law. As they are chased by the police and until their unfortunate end, society is forced to change their views on women. The audience is shown how women can change their lives and commit crimes like murder and robbery like, if not better than, men. Under Altman’s scope, Thelma and Louise would be considered a women’s film.
However, Giannetti informs us that a women’s picture is “usually domestic melodramas emphasizing a female star and focusing on ‘typical’ female concerns such as getting a man, raising children, or balancing a career with marriage” (430). Under Giannetti’s definition, Thelma and Louise would not be considered a woman’s film. Thelma and Louise focus on getting away from their jobs and relationships with men, not developing them further. Their crimes become their career; their only means for survival against a patriarchal society. Giannetti tells us that “women who chose [career over a man] usually suffered” (430). We see this come to fruition at the end of the film when Thelma and Louise choose death over accepting the consequences of their actions. They stand up, not just for themselves, but for all women who are tired of being seen as “girls” who are only useful when it comes to cooking and cleaning. They become awakened by their criminal activity: Thelma becomes less of a flake through her rebellions and Louise learns to control her temper and love life. They become transformed and awakened on their journey.
Thelma: You awake?
Louise: Guess you could call it that, my eyes are open.
Thelma: I’m awake too. I feel awake.
Thelma: I feel really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?
So then, what genre can we classify Thelma and Louise as: a women’s film, a crime, a road/travel film, a buddy film? Honestly, this film is a mixed genre of all of the above. It is a film about two women who are best friends, commit crimes, and travel to escape their lives. The film is not fully feminist, yet the characters of Thelma and Louise are because they come to depend on themselves for survival and they rebel against the patriarchal society. They live their live on their own terms and refuse to be limited by society. As Thelma tells Louise late in the film, if they had gone to the police from the start, “we’d still have our lives ruined…at least now I’m having some fun.” The audience is meant to be uplifted by the story of these women, even though their moment of freedom ends in death. It’s about escaping the agonizing restrictions of gender, class, time, and place. The message of Thelma and Louise lives on; they “keep going.”