I considered putting a spoiler warning on this post, but then I realized that the ending of Thelma & Louise is referenced so often that it’s really not my fault if I ruin it for you. Also I knew the general plot and still am totally glad I watched this so I think that warning is unnecessary.
That being said, the “Thelma and Louise drive off a cliff in a blaze of glory” cultural conversation that surrounds this movie actually put me off from watching this from a long time. I’m a feminist, without apology, and I get really upset about stories about ‘strong female characters’ that end with ‘necessary’ suicide. (Please forgive the sarcastic quotes and political commentary, sometimes I can’t keep it in.) This isn’t just a Hollywood problem, it goes all the way back to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and beyond and I’ve always found it frustrating.
What’s actually great about this movie, which at times I found pretty hard to watch, is that the final decision in no way feels arbitrary. These women are not tragic figures that “got what they settled for” and then could see no way out. They are women victimized, in explicit and implicit ways by men who claim to love them and men who somehow feel entitled to them because they (to borrow one of my favorite phrases from this brilliant blogger) “occupy a space marked female.” This isn’t a movie that is meant to be realistic, it’s a fable of what would happen if women stopped putting up with the bullshit that they are subjected to whenever they want to let their hair (and their guards) down.
Which means at time it’s almost gratingly hyperbolic, but Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon pull it back from the brink with the depth they give these women, who could easily have come across as cartoon characters. It’s also saved from pedantic pretension by the fact that these women have flaws, and get annoyed with each other, but truly love each other. They are female friends who fight over things other than jealousy and that it so rarely seen in a Hollywood movie. I also loved how protective Harvy Keitel’s detective was of them, even though that’s technically just another form of patriarchy.