Directed by Ridley Scott.
Screenplay byCallie Khouri.
Cinematography by Adrian Biddle.
Music by HansZimmer.
Starring: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Stephen Tobolowsky, Christopher McDonald, Brad Pitt.
Rated: R -- language, sex(ism), vigilatism, violence.
|Thelma and Louise
The tragi-comic (pseudo-)feminist road movie Thelma and Louise has been hailed as a breakthrough movie, one of those surprise zeitgeist-catching hits that expresses something essential about its time.
But it's really a (fashion) victim of its time. Poor Thelma and Louise should have been made in the 1970s as an unpolished, low-budget production by Robert Altman or Bob Rafelson or someone with a feel for the raw and messy -- but sometimes extraordinary -- possibilities of human life. But it's too late for that now. It's the '90s, and everyone and everything is viewed as a commodity. And, as if we needed any more evidence of that sad fact, British director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Black Rain) has taken the lower-middle-class feminist rage at the heart of Thelma and Louise and plastic-packaged it as a feature-length perfume commercial targeted at knee-jerk "feminists."Scott's prettified, sterile, meticulously composed images threaten to suffocate all the potency and danger out of the ideas and emotions at the core of the movie -- while at the same time making those potentially disturbing notions palatable to a mass audience. It's like watching a perfectly coiffed, dressed, and made-up supermodel complain about "society's" standards of beauty, while doing everything possible to perpetuate and conform to them. Thelma and Louise is a movie that's all dressed up and has no place to go.
Fortunately, however, luminous lead actresses Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are strong and vital enough that they resist being fashioned into mannequins in Scott's fastidiously arranged, wide-screen window display. Scott should stick to directing movies about aliens and androids and just forget about the Earth and its people. He and cinematographer Adrian Biddle shoot their actors and the rough, awe-inspiring landscapes of the American southwest as if they were making travel agency posters or fashion layouts -- a method that suffocates and sugarcoats the compelling passions below that glossy surface.It starts out as a weekend fling away from home. Louise (Sarandon), a coffee-shop waitress, and her best friend Thelma (Davis), a housewife bullied by her lout of a husband, Darryl (Christopher McDonald), take off for a few days together at a friend's cabin. Neither of them is particularly happy with their lot in life. As Louise says, "You get what you settle for." But once they're out on their own in the world, they encounter people and situations that put their settled-for lives at risk. One thing leads to another and they wind up irrevocably throwing off the shackles of their old existence, turning instead -- out of necessity -- to lives of crime.
Thelma and Louise fits into the fugitive-couple-on-the-run order of movies such as You Only Live Once, They Live By Night, Bonnie and Clyde, Thieves Like Us and Badlands, to name a few. The difference, of course, is that, here, both parts of the couple are female, on the run in a man's world full of sexist slobs and patronizing patriarchs. But what should have been an exciting, unpredictable journey of self-discovery for these women too often feels like it's been road-mapped in advance, even though there's no clear destination.Scott undermines the movie's political points by portraying two key male characters as editorial-cartoon idiots. If only things were that simple. Thelma's husband Darryl is just too one-note awful to be believable, pointedly interrupting an urgent phone call from his wife to cheer a football play on television. (Get the point?)
And a truck driver who makes lewd remarks to Thelma and Louise is portrayed as such a grotesquely ridiculous cretin that he fails to represent any serious threat to them. Really, how intimidating can a slobbering, two-dimensional 'toon be? His fate is drained of meaning because he's too freakish to actually stand in for the panting male sexism that he's supposed to represent. Both these guys are oversized cardboard villains, knocked over with bludgeons rather than skewered with satirical daggers. This is the equivalent of Alan Parker's racist Mississippi Burning, which posits that all racists are easily identifiable by their hideous physical malformations, when in fact racism and sexism are insidious because they manifest themselves in thousands of inconspicuous ways, not because the people who perpetuate them are just plain ugly, inside and out.
In the depiction of four other crucial male characters, however, (Thelma and Louise are virtually the only women in the movie, except for a few waitresses) the movie is more successfully complex. J.D. (Brad Pitt), a sweet-talking, seductive young hitchhiker to whom Thelma takes a shine is the ideal blend of golden boy and con man. Harlan (Timothy Carhart), a good ol' boy pick-up artist who comes on to Thelma at a truck stop saloon, changes from charming to threatening with terrifying suddenness. Hal (Harvey Keitel) is a kind of guardian angel police officer who empathizes with and feels protective of Thelma and Louise, even as he helps track them down. And Jimmy (Michael Madsen), Louise's noncommittal boyfriend, is a wandering musician who loves her but hasn't the faintest idea of how to express it.In the end, the movie throws away any kind of humanity for hollow iconography: bleakly beautiful southwestern landscapes, guns, and gorgeous antique cars involved in the same old car chases with herds of police vehicles. How pathetic that Hollywood's idea of "feminist" movie-making is to simply give these gals a gun and a hot car. This movie should have felt dangerous and unpredictable, not framed and composed like a page out of Vanity Fair. Too bad so much of the tension and passion is petrified under layers of cinematic nail polish.
And while there's some cheap-thrill cathartic value to seeing the gender tables turned, that's not enough to sustain it, even with this terrific cast. For better or worse, Sarandon and Davis just seem so much smarter and livelier than this patronizing material. Gender-switching a traditional male-oriented genre is an intriguing place to start, but Thelma and Louise only key-scratches the lustrous surface, and then takes a joy ride off into the pre-fab, picture-pretty sunset.Back to screening room