Viking Night: Thelma & Louise
By Bruce Hall
January 10, 2012
This week - from the director of Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator comes...Thelma & Louise?
Everyone's favorite female felons indeed came to us from the mind of the same man who gave us those chest bursting space bugs and Rutger Hauer's mopey, murderous man-machine. To faithful patrons of this site that is probably not news, but to the average movie goer it might come as a shock. It shouldn't; many of the modern era's most revered filmmakers have something out of the box on their resume, with mixed results. George Lucas chose to produce Howard the Duck, for some reason. Steven Spielberg directed 1941, which was...not good. And most recently, Martin Scorsese took a break from gangsters shooting each other in the face to create Hugo, a charming and poignant window into his own childhood.
Thelma & Louise is Ridley Scott's left turn – an odd, fun little film full of flaky little quirks that have kept movie buffs in a state of debate for 20 years. And it was a mainstream phenomenon; it remains an indelible part of American pop culture to this day. Even people who've never seen this movie know what it's about and how it ends. In fact, before I even get into what I think of it, I'll concede that once a story becomes legend, whether you like it or not is beside the point. It's bigger than life, longer than time – an achievement by virtue of its very existence.
You wouldn't gather this from the first few minutes of the film. Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) is a durable, world weary waitress at a roadside diner. She seems to enjoy her job, or at least be happily resigned to it. She has a boyfriend named Jimmy (Michael Madsen) whom she seems to appreciate, but there's a wall between them. Louise has some baggage but she carries it like a pro, and Jimmy follows behind, ready to pick up anything that hits the ground. It's not a bad life but everyone needs a vacation, and Louise has one planned with her best friend Thelma.
Thelma (Geena Davis) is a ditzy rural homemaker, trapped in an oppressive marriage to an aggressive redneck named Darryl (Christopher McDonald). She receives a heaping helping of verbal abuse from Darryl from the moment he wakes up in the morning, and endures it in the good natured, oblivious way she seems to endure everything. When Louise calls her about a planned trip to the mountains, it doesn't take long to see who wears the pants in their relationship. Louise's assertiveness seems to be compensation for whatever burden she's carrying around. Thelma comes across like a silly little girl who thinks that ignoring pain is the way to cure it.
It's an obvious plot point, but the movie spends the next 129 minutes hitting you over the head with it anyway. I'm going to go ahead and warn you – Thelma & Louise is a very forgiving story that is not above spelling things out in broad, conspicuous strokes. Even if you've recently HAD a stroke, you won't have any trouble deciding who's who and where everything stands. Thelma and Darryl are only on screen together once, and you almost expect them to turn to the camera and say:
“I'm Darryl, and I'm an abusive asshole who cheats on his beautiful, doting wife because, well, I'm an asshole!”
“I'm Thelma, and I'm a beautiful doting wife. I married the wrong guy because I was young and stupid and I'm still toughing it out, because I'm not that young anymore, but I sure am stupid!”