Thelma & Louise

Released:  1991

Cast:  Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Brad Pitt

Oscar Wins:  Best Original Screenplay (Callie Khouri)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Actress (Geena Davis), Best Actress (Susan Sarandon), Best Director (Ridley Scott), Best Cinematography (Adrian Biddle), Best Film Editing (Thom Noble)

SUMMARY:  One weekend, friends Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) and Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) decide to get away from the monotony (and men) of their lives in Arkansas, and spend a few days at a friend’s cabin.  Louise is fed up with her boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Madsen), and Thelma is married to an extremely controlling and borderline abusive man named Darryl.  They leave in Louise’s green 1966 Thunderbird convertible, and the first night, stop at a bar for a drink before turning in for the night.  The repressed Thelma cuts loose, drinking and dancing with a man named Harlan.  After a few drinks, Thelma feels sick, so Harlan takes her outside.  When she seems to recover, he starts making romantic advances; when she tries to push him away, Harlan gets angry and slaps her; when she still refuses, he tries to rape her.  Just then, Louise appears with the gun Thelma had brought from home.  She holds it on Harlan until Thelma moves away, and the two women prepare to leave.  However, Harlan makes an obscene remark, and Louise shoots and kills him.  The two women get in the car and argue about what to do:  Thelma wants to go to the police, but Louise states that their story is too unbelievable, since Thelma had been seen dancing with (and seemingly encouraging) Harlan.  Louise wants to get out of town and think things over, and Thelma reluctantly goes with her.  The next day, Louise decides to head for Mexico, since she believes she will be charged with murder — but she refuses to go through Texas, for unexplained reasons.  After some thought, Thelma decides to go with her, instead of returning home to Darryl.  Louise calls her boyfriend Jimmy and asks him to send her life savings via wire transfer, which he agrees to do, sending it to Oklahoma City.  The woman head that direction, and at another stop, Thelma meets a young man named J.D. (Brad Pitt).  J.D. tells her that he is a student trying to get back to school, and could use a ride.  Thelma is sympathetic, but Louise refuses to deviate from their plan, and the two women quickly leave.  However, when they run across J.D. at their next stop, Louise gives in and agrees to take him to Oklahoma City.  When they get there, Louise finds that Jimmy has personally brought the money, and the two have a long conversation that night.  Meanwhile, Thelma invites J.D. into her room.  They sleep together, and J.D. reveals that he is not really a student:  he is a criminal who has broken his parole.  He was imprisoned for holding up various small businesses, and describes to Thelma exactly how he did it.

In the morning, Thelma and Louise have breakfast together, and Thelma tells her about the night with J.D.  Rather than join in her excitement, Louise panics, and asks Thelma about the money she was supposed to be safeguarding.  When Thelma responds that she left it on the bedside table, the two women rush back to the hotel room — to find that J.D. and the money have both vanished.  Louise is beside herself, as they no longer have any money with which to get to Mexico.  In a role reversal, Thelma takes charge and orders Louise into the car.  She drives to a convenience store, and robs it using the technique J.D. told her about.  In the meantime, the police have discovered Harlan’s body, and identified Thelma and Louise as the main suspects.  When the women leave the state, they bring in the FBI; however, one of the most involved men is local Detective Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel).  Slocumb interviews Jimmy and Darryl, and taps Darryl’s phone line; they also eventually pick up J.D., and learn that he stole the women’s money.  Slocumb also uncovers the fact that Louise had been raped in Texas many years earlier, and that this is the reason for both her reaction to Harlan and her refusal to drive through Texas (Thelma also eventually figures this out).  When Thelma calls home on Louise’s instructions, they realize that the police are onto them.  Louise calls back, and talks to Slocumb; while he understands her motivation and even sympathizes with her, he cannot convince her to turn herself in.  Knowing that the police are on their tail, the women begin driving nonstop for Mexico.  A state trooper pulls them over, and Thelma holds the gun on him and forces him into his own trunk; when they later come across a rude truck driver, they trick him out of his truck and request an apology.  The driver refuses, so they shoot first the tires of his truck, then the oil tanker he is pulling (making it blow up).  The women are finally forced to stop when they reach the Grand Canyon, but when they turn around to find another route, they are met by the police, who have finally caught up with them.  Slocumb is there, and tries to get permission to talk and bargain with the women, but is denied.  From her talks with Slocumb, Louise knows that she and Thelma have been charged with numerous offenses, including murder, armed robbery and kidnapping (the trooper).  To her surprise, it is Thelma who suggests that rather than surrendering, the two of them simply keep driving (over the cliff).  Louise agrees, and as Slocumb breaks loose and runs toward the car, she steps on the gas and sends the car into the Grand Canyon.

MY TAKE:  Despite the sad ending, this is actually a really funny movie.  Thelma has been living with a domineering husband for several years, and she absolutely cuts loose.  Obviously, this is what gets the women into the trouble that sends them on the run (while Harlan is totally at fault for the attempted rape, Thelma could have used a little more restraint in the club).  For quite a bit of the trip, she’s mostly the comic relief, while Louise is the boss.  This changes after J.D. takes off with the money, because Louise pretty much falls apart. Thelma takes control, drives to a convenience store, and the next thing you hear is her screaming for Louise to start the car.  She has a number of funny remarks throughout the movie, including one about the size of Darryl’s backside.  As for their criminal escapades, I have a very similar opinion to that of Slocumb:  in many cases, they were the victims of bad circumstances.  Harlan really was trying to rape Thelma, and Louise ended up shooting him in a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, brought on by her anger at his behavior and remarks.  She obtained the money to get to Mexico perfectly legally — it’s her life savings — only to have somebody steal it (this time it’s totally Thelma’s fault).  Without any money, Thelma holds up the convenience store, which they wouldn’t have had to do if it weren’t for J.D.  The cop thing isn’t really an accident, but they don’t harm him, and that idiot trucker totally deserved to be taught a lesson (although blowing up his truck, while satisfying, may not have been the best idea).  In most instances, their crimes are fairly understandable, whether or not they were good ideas.  Through all of it, I still sympathized with the women.  I don’t particularly like the ending, but other than the two getting to Mexico, there really isn’t a happy ending.

RATING:  Funny and adventurous, but bittersweet.


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