Women don’t want to see men killed meaninglessly, as so many men seem to enjoy seeing random violence in “their” movies, but they do want to see revenge, when it’s deserved. And “Thelma and Louise” is a revenge tragedy wrapped in humor, discovery and rebellion. Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com, 1991
Film critic Roger Ebert aptly reached this conclusion about 25 years ago when the award-winning Thelma and Louise was released. And 20 years later (just five years ago) Raina Lipsitz (The Atlantic) called Thelma and Louise “the last great film about women,” citing few since then that have passed the Bechdel test as well or with “the depth or level of nuance of Thelma & Louise.”
Watch the trailer here:
More film background from Ebert (some of which may serve as a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen it) (but should):
The original screenplay by Callie Khouri was written in response, she says, to countless movies in which men were the free agents and women were decorations or sidekicks. It was time for the women to get the last word, for a change.
Consider what happens in ‘Thelma and Louise.’ A drunken would-be rapist gets blown away. A slimebag truck driver, who harasses the heroines with his obscene side show, gets his truck blown to smithereens. A husband who is smugly indifferent to the needs and voice of his wife finds out he has no idea who he was married to. A lot of cops get outsmarted and made into fools. And the women get the last word.
Suicide or freedom-finding? Although some viewed the ending as catastrophic, Ebert represented the other side. “They are shouting into the maw of the universe,” said he, “that men are no longer going to make their decisions for them.”
Khouri, in fact, saw the ending as “symbolic, not literal.” Raina Lipsitz (The Atlantic) shares this sentiment: “To me, it represented not death or punishment but hope, and even a kind of radical, ultimate fulfillment. Today, movies about women end with a wedding. Even its proponents can hardly argue that the aim of marriage is to set women free.”
As quoted on NPR on the occasion of the film’s 20th anniversary, Khouri further explained her perspective:
“It was a way of saying that this was a world in which they didn’t believe there was the possibility of justice for them. That they didn’t believe that anyone would ever see their side of it enough to know why they had done what they had done. And that this was just a way of letting them go and letting them stay who they were, who they had become. So I never saw it as a suicide. And over the years, hearing other people talk about it, I realize it’s like a half-full, half-empty glass of water test. Where some people will come up and go, ‘I’m so glad you let them get away.’ And other people are like, ‘I can’t believe you killed them.’ To me, they got away.”
Stars Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, both recently interviewed for Harper’s Bazaar, have some fierce things of their own to say about how things could’ve turned out (or did) for their characters:
Davis (Thelma): “People ask me, ‘Is there going to be a sequel?’ And I’m like, ‘What the heck do you think happened to them’?!”
Sarandon, who was Louise, was asked to ponder a different, i.e., non-perishing, type of ending. “Well, Thelma’s definitely not with her husband anymore! One would only hope she found Brad [Pitt] again. [Laughs.] Maybe Louise became a lesbian. That would be fabulous. Maybe she continued her trip and ended up running an Airbnb. I certainly could drive better by the end of the movie, so maybe I became a driver of some sort.”