Tuesday, August 21, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "THELMA & LOUISE"

THELMA & LOUISE (1991)

Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Callie Khouri



“Thelma & Louise,” has never been a particular favorite of mine, mostly admiring it for it’s relevance to politics and pop culture than anything else. Truth be told, the only reason for my most recent viewing, was for a class, and even then I skipped the showing and had to watch it on my own time. It’s been held by feminist groups as a historical benchmark, being one of the few films with women leads who are not only 3-dimensional characters but also rebel against a world that places them as, for lack of a better term, second class citizens. Outside of that, there’s nothing particularly creative or important about the film in terms of story or plot, you can basically change Thelma & Louise to Butch & Sundance and not be too far off. Yet, recently the film got to me in ways I hadn’t realized the film could. There’s the famous melodramatic near-rape scene that sends Thelma and Louise (Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon respectively) on the run from the law and eventually escaping their lives and society, but where the film works oddly enough is in quiet moments like how after the murdering Thelma’s would-be rapist, Louise spends an awfully long time thinking about what to do next, and we actually believe that she doesn’t know what to do next, or what is going to happen. The film, surprisingly enough was directed by Ridley Scott, more famous for films like “Alien,” and “Blade Runner,” at the time, and in the future for “Gladiator,” and “Black Hawk Down,”among others. I am actually one of his most vocal critics, often noting how in many of his films he spends way too much time understating the movie with metaphoric images and sequences, often forgetting or disregarding the story or plot. In every version of “Blade Runner,” this hurts the film, and “Gladiator”to me is an embarrassment because of it, especially considering how it won so many Oscars. Oddly enough here though, he uses these moments as well, but he uses them sparingly but also correctly, not to understate any metaphor, but to create complete characters out of Thelma & Louise, like how Louise can simultaneously love and completely abandon her current boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Madsen) without a particular care in the world, and how Thelma, well, I’ve never put Geena Davis on the top of my actors I’d like to work with list, but maybe she’s a better actress than I thought, but that being said, Thelma is complete ditz who seems to constantly find a way of getting the two of them into more trouble. She falls instantly for a young hitchhiker, J.D. (Brad Pitt, in his star-making role) who even tells her he’s a robber, but she fucks him anyway, mostly out of anger for her dead beat husband (Christopher McDonald), and despite the fact they’re now broke, her spirit is rejuvenated giving her the confidence to use what abilities she does have to their cause. It’s interesting that there is a script with a truly complete character that can be looked upon as a hero, but still be a complete dingbat. The script is by Callie Khouri, who had the best Hollywood nobody-with-a-script-to-Oscar winner story until Diablo Cody came around. Khouri had a catering company and was working the food table on a film set when someone asked her if she had a script, and she passed on her script for “Thelma & Louise.” It would win her an Oscar and she’d go on to write“Something to Talk About,” and even directed her own film, “The Divine Sisters of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”. What makes “Thelma & Louise,” hold up now is the incredible acting by both Davis and especially Sarandon, and how they’re able to not only fully embody these characters, but how they’re able to get make us believe these characters have truly changed from who they were in the film’s beginning, a waitress and a housewife, to who they’ve become after a series of somewhat random and unfortunate events. There’s a scene near the end of the movie that shouldn’t work but does, involving the two girls pulling over a gas trucker who they’ve been running into periodically, and they finally decide to take out some rage against him for making lude facial expressions and comments. The scene is a stop in the action and has little to do with anything else in the movie, but by the time we get to the scene we know why they do what they do to the guy, and his tanker, and we know why they had no other option than having to do what they did. As to the film’s famous final scene, let me say this, there’s something interesting in how the Harvey Keitel character, playing the cop that heads after them, a member of the society they’re supposedly escaping from was probably willing and able to help them out if only he had gotten to them sooner. The ending is shocking and bitter because unlike Butch and Sundance, who were always bank robbers, all it would’ve took was one phone call or even a few different breaks. It didn’t have to be that way.


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