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Thelma and Louise

Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Callie Khouri, Thelma and Louise presents  the unforeseen circumstances that the protagonists, with the entitled names face when they embark on a fishing trip; to escape from the humdrums of their daily lives, even for once. Thelma, played by Geene Davis and Louise, played by Susan Sarandon are two friends with different mentalities as well as different lifestyles. Destiny, however, chooses to mess up with these women to have their fate entwined.

When the film was released in 1991, it had brewed a number of controversies that has, quite expectedly, not been able to hamper the essence of the film. In the year of its release, the scriptwriter, Callie Khourie, the actresses, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis were nominated for awards. In total, the film has bagged several awards. While watching the film, the audience can realise that there is a beautiful fusion of several genres that has ultimately resulted in tagging it as a classic. In 2016, the United States Library of Congress endowed the film with utmost prestige by selecting the film to be preserved in the National Film Registry, as it found it to be significant.

The plot is a neatly woven one which draws the viewer’s attention and never lets it to divert even for a minute. The movie starts off with the best friends, Louise Sawyer and Thelma Dickinson, planning to have some fun at their weekend. While Thelma shares a boring, almost uneventful married life with Darryl (played by Christopher McDonald), Louise is a fiercely independent woman who works as a waitress and dates an aspiring musician, Jimmy, who spends his life as a vagabond, mostly on roads. Thelma is so afraid of breaking the news of the trip to her husband that she finds it easier to leave a note for him.

Things complicate when they stop to take a drink at a roadside bar and Thelma, after having a few shots and drinks, gets too friendly with a stranger, Harlan. Thelma feels a bit suffocated and Harlan, seizing the opportunity, takes her out to get some fresh air. A nice mess weaves out of this and Harlan starts violating her in spite of her resistance. At this very critical moment, Louise appears with a gun that Thelma had secretly taken from her husband’s drawer. Louise becomes a prey of circumstances and she unwittingly shoots Harlan. Things turn and take a different form from this very moment.

They stop at a motel to discuss a way out from the grave situation. Thelma decides to admit everything to the police but Louise thinks nobody will listen to them and try to understand them. This inner conflict complicates the plot. Louise tries to handle the situation calmly but sensing Thelma’s nerve-wrecked condition, she advice the latter to go to the swimming pool and relax a bit. In the meantime, she calls up Jimmy and asks him to wire her savings to her. She does not disclose everything to Jimmy and the audiences get a false hope that everything might resolve soon. Both Thelma and Louise decide to run away from there and plan to go to Mexico from Oklahoma without going through Texas. The presence of Louise’s dark past, related to Texas, is hinted to the audience. Heading west, they come across a young cowboy, J.D (played by Brad Pitt), who happens to allure Thelma which results in their sleeping together for a night and ultimately he runs away with their money.

Louise also shares some tender moments with Jimmy where he proposes her but she refuses. The two friends, with their personal complex lives seem like the two fragmented parts of the human mind. After Louise comes to know that J.D has stolen the money, she becomes disheartened and Thelma takes the role of making things alright and ends up robbing a store. The FBI, however, gets more close to the duo after every illegal action they commit. Hal Slocumb, played by Harvey Keitel, the Arkansas State Police Investigator, leads the investigation and questions both J.D, Jimmy, and taps into the phone line at Darryl’s house. He is the one who sympathies with Louise and confesses that he knows what happened to her in Texas. The two get caught by a New Mexico state trooper for speeding and Thelma points the gun at him and compels him to go inside the trunk of his police car. They commit another crime by shooting at the fuel tanker of a man who makes obscene gestures to them but refuses to apologize.

Thelma and Louise get surrounded by authorities near the Grand Canyon. Hal Slocumb appears on the scene and negotiates helplessly with another officer to give him a chance to talk to the ladies. Thelma, who is always seen as nodding to whatever Louise says, is seen to give one of the most heart-wrenching lines –“keep going”. After having tasted the essence and vigor of freedom, she finds it impossible to think to stay in a jail after getting caught. Louise, though initially baffled, agrees to her friend’s dictate and she steps on the accelerator, and they ride over the cliff to their much awaited death.

The cinematographic experience of this film is absolutely outstanding. It’s a true pleasure to see how swiftly the scenes change and the light that falls on the face and body of the characters undoubtedly add to the rich cinematographic experience. The editing only adds a few more layers to the film. One enriching thing in the movie is the inclusion of songs. Thunderbird, the theme music for the film, created by Pete Haycock on slide guitar sets the mood for a perfect road trip. Glenn Frey’s “Part of Me, Part of You”, the primary theme song of the film also demands notable appreciation.

The film is a rich feast for the senses. It has feminist overtones that have impressed feminist critics. The countryside has been shown without any extra dramatizing effects which make it charming. The film could have improved a bit in the ending scene when there are a few flashbacks of the two women smiling and laughing before any mishap occurred. Overall, the film is a real gem and it raises many issues about the consent of women. Maintaining the true tradition of American road film, this film can be seen as a milestone that truly brings out what women go through when they decide to have a road trip all alone. At the same time, it raises the seldom raised question about how important it is to be loved.  Aptly tagged as a classic, this movie is a gem and its vigor never really fades.

Satavisha Chakraborty

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