THELMA & LOUISE

A Cult Classic – Not Just for Feminists

“BOOM!!” Under fire from Thelma and Louise’s guns, the tongue-wagging truck-driver’s pride and joy (and extension of his manhood) goes up in flames. Incredulous, its owner stares at the spectacle and lets off a pitifully helpless and, in its helplessness, hilariously comical tirade against the two female outlaws; whose only reason not to shoot him, too, at this point is that it is so utterly more poignant to let him sit all alone by the road side in the vastness of the Southwest, robbed of all attributes of male potency and left to the pity of whoever is eventually going to pick him up and give him a ride back to civilization.

By the time of this incident, Thelma has mutated from a subdued and insecure housewife to a self-assured, fearless queen of the highway. (“Something has crossed over” in her, she tells Louise shortly before their final encounter with their truck-driving nemesis.) Louise in turn, who had taken the lead early on in their flight from the police, has overcome her intermittent bout of despair and is back to her old self, too. Now wanted not only for questioning in connection with the death of the rapist shot by Louise but also for armed robbery in another state, knowing that being questioned by the police will inevitably add a charge of murder for the incident which set off their run (and probably also knowing deep down inside that there is not going to be a happy ending to their weekend trip anyway), Thelma and Louise have stopped to care what is going to happen next. Thus emboldened, they make a last great run for it, which ultimately leads them to the vast, endlessly deep gorges of the Grand Canyon.

Thelma and Louise is all and none of the things as which it has been described. It is about the friendship between two women, about female independence and male sexism, but it is neither a simple “chick flick” nor a monument to feminism (although I have to admit that watching it can have an almost therapeutic effect when you’ve just about “had it” again with the male slightly-less-than-half of society). Most of the men that Thelma and Louise encounter are two-dimensional cartoon characters, but Reservoir Dogs and perpetual tough guys Harvey Keitel and Michael Madsen (of all people) are cast against stereotype. The movie also features some absolutely stunning pictures of the Southwestern scenery and mostly takes place on the road, but it is not just a “road movie” (feminist or otherwise). More than anything, this is a movie about the things that shape the way we are, and about the consequences of our actions. Had Thelma learned to use her brain before and not after their encounter with Harlan the rapist, she would have seen him for what he was and avoided him from the start. Had Louise not been raped herself, she would probably not have shot Harlan at being provoked by him, after the self-defense situation was already over. Impulse? Fate? Justifiable homicide? Hardly. Thoroughly understandable? Absolutely, at least from a woman’s point of view.

It takes two extraordinary lead actresses to carry the movie’s theme, and Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are the perfect embodiment of the characters they portray. Next to them, not even Keitel and Madsen really shine (although this may be in part due to the thankless parts they play); only Brad Pitt, in the role that made him an overnight star, briefly gets to sparkle. Callie Khourie was a deserving winner of the 1991 Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Screenplay, and both Sarandon and Davis would have been equally deserving of the Best Leading Actress awards. So would have Ridley Scott for Directing, Adrian Biddle for Cinematography, Thom Noble for Editing and for the movie itself, for Best Drama – in a year that produced many extraordinary films, it might have been more just to split some of the awards among several contenders, and despite the strong competition (Bugsy, The Silence of the Lambs, The Prince of Tides, The Fisher King, Grand Canyon and Fried Green Tomatoes, to name just a few), it seems sadly underrated for a movie that has long since become a cult classic to only have won one of the awards it was nominated for, both on Oscar Night and at the Golden Globes.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: MGM (1991)
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Producers: Ridley Scott & Mimi Polk Gitlin
  • Co-Producers: Callie Khouri & Dean O’Brien
  • Screenplay: Callie Khouri
  • Music: Hans Zimmer
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Adrian Biddle
Cast
  • Susan Sarandon: Louise Sawyer
  • Geena Davis: Thelma Dickinson
  • Harvey Keitel: Detective Hal Slocumb
  • Michael Madsen: Jimmy Lennox
  • Brad Pitt: J.D.
  • Christopher McDonald: Darryl Dickinson
  • Stephen Tobolowsky: Max
  • Timothy Carhart: Harlan Puckett
  • Marco St. John: Truck Driver (uncredited)

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1992)
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Callie Khouri
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 50 Heroes – No. 24 (Thelma Dickerson & Louise Sawyer)
  • Top 100 Thrillers – No. 76
  • Top 100 Inspiring Movies – No. 78
Golden Globes (1992)
  • Best Screenplay – Motion Picture: Callie Khouri
National Board of Review Awards (1991)
  • Best Actress: Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis (tied)
  • Top 10 Films of 1991 – No. 4
Writers Guild of America Awards (1992)
  • Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Callie Khouri
National Society of Film Critics Awards (USA) (1991)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Havey Keitel
    – Also for “Bugsy” and “Mortal Thoughts”
  • 3d Place, Best Actress: Susan Sarandon
New York Film Critics Circle Awards (1991)
  • 2nd Place, Best Screenplay: Callie Khouri
  • 2nd Place, Best Actress: Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis (tied)
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards (1991)
  • Best Actress: Geena Davis
PEN Center USA West Literary Awards (1992)
  • Best Screenplay: Callie Khouri
London Critics’ Circle Film Awards (1991)
  • Film of the Year
  • Director of the Year: Ridley Scott
  • Actress of the Year: Susan Sarandon
    – Also for “White Palace.”
David di Donatello Awards (1992)
  • Migliore Attrice Straniera (Best Foreign Actress): Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis (tied)
Nastro d’Argento (Silver Ribbon) (Italy)
  • Best Female Dubbing: Rossella Izzo (voice of Louise)
Bodil Awards (Denmark)
  • Best Non-European Film: Ridley Scott

 

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