Instead of seeking wealth and power, they seek only freedom and pleasure, according to Dargis. Only when male characters try to force their will over these women do they retaliate to take the power back from the men, as happens when they lock the police man in his trunk, or by shooting the rapist. The narrative works out ideological tensions in power relations. There’s a struggle over who gains the power. The men want the power over women and they have it in the beginning of the film, and women want to have power over themselves, which they try to achieve.
This shows that the women aren’t just ‘plunked down in the starring roles’ as Carlson claimed. It involves the breakdown of typical film ideology, in which everyone has their place, and a woman’s place is submissive to men. We can see Louise beginning to turn away from men as she is packing her bags at the beginning, she calls her lover and receives an answering machine message. This causes her to turn his photograph face down. Although we can not see who the photograph is of, the connection is made by the expression on Louise’s face as she flips it over.
This also suggests that this male character, as well as all other male characters will play a back seat in the rest of the film. Dargis contrasts this with other lead females from other movies who ‘learn from men’ where Thelma and Louise ‘look to each other to survive’. Yet I would disagree with this point, as the men still have a large degree of control over the women throughout the film. The motivation for running from the law was fear of a male dominated justice system, and an incident involving a male rapist. Louise doesn’t have the funds to make it to Mexico, so she relies on her lover to wire her the money.
The money is then stolen by Thelma’s new lover JD, who in the process teaches her how to rob a convenience store, which enables them to acquire money to continue running from the patriarchal system, yet getting them in to deeper trouble, to the point in which there is no turning back. Dargis describes men as ‘signposts’ along the way, yet the fact that males are seen less in the film gives them a behind the scenes controlling status, like an invisible creature who has the power to give and to take away. Carlston mentions that it seems implausible that Thelma would be so trusting of men after her near rape experience.
When they arrive at the first hotel Thelma goes to the pool in a provocative bikini, while the camera adopts the male gaze of Thelma as an object (which got her into trouble in the first place). This implausibility may be directing us to the concept that although men provide the crucial turning points in the plot narrative, they don’t provide all of the reasons for the changing personalities and styles of the female characters. Louise doesn’t immediately throw away her makeup after the first incident of killing the rapist because she and Thelma suddenly decide they don’t want to be objectified anymore for safety reasons.
It’s a gradual process which is brought to light in the scene in which they are driving in the night, and a series of dissolves from the face of Thelma to Louise and back again shows how similar they are now in looks. Their hair is wild, no make up or jewellery (Louise traded hers for a practical cowboy hat) and similar clothes. Carlson suggests this is part of their transition to becoming men, yet although they aren’t made up they don’t look like men. I think the point is that they don’t care what they look like any more, they aren’t trying to be something else, as we can see when Louise throws away her lipstick.
The narrative is definitely about change, and becoming who you want, not what others want you to be. In this case it is irrelevant that the characters where forced into this lifestyle. This challenges our conception that women should be a particular stereotype, as these women act somewhat like men in certain ways and like women in others. This change is hinted at in the first shot of the desert scenery which is in black and white, then slowly merges into colour.
The fact that the scenery is dull and is slowly enhanced also echoes the story of Thelma and Louise, whose lives are enriched when they try to escape from that which was keeping them subserviant. They managed to achieve some freedom, if only for a short while. Yet as much as Thelma and Louise challenge typical conventions and ideologies, the ending repeats the common view on women in movies. If a woman steps outside of her place in society, she must either repent or die. That they chose death rather than repentance shows that they had become unwilling to give in to men anymore, and I guess in their own way they won.
Yet this still suggests that there’s no room in society for women to be themselves as opposed to what men want them to be. The photo taken at the beginning of the trip flies away, signifying the end of the road.
Bibliography Making a Good Script Great Linda Seger Film, Form and Culture Robert Kolker ‘Thelma and Louise’ and the Tradition of the Male Road Movie Manohla Dargis Is This what Feminism is all About? 1 ‘Is This What Feminism Is All about? ‘ by Margaret Carlson and ‘Thelma and Louise and the Tradition of the Male Road Movie’ by Manhola Dargis.