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« Cannes Winners 2016 | Main | Great... Train Robbery, Detective, Balls of Fire »
Sunday
May222016

Thelma & Louise Part 1: Girls' Trip, Interrupted

25th Anniversary Five-Part Mini Series Event 

Thelma & Louise
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Callie Khouri
Released by MGM on May 24th, 1991
Nominated for Six Oscars

To celebrate the anniversary of this bonafide girls gone wild classic from 1991, Team Experience is revisiting the picture, tag-team style all week long (like we did with Rebecca & Silence of the Lambs, y'all!).

While the film begins in Arkansas, we're taking an alternate route. Grabbing the keys to begin this road trip is our own dazzling female duo over in Los Angeles, Anne Marie and Margaret. - Editor

Pt 1 by Anne Marie and Margaret

Anne Marie: 00:01. Fade in on an opening credit sequence that pulls every single late 80s/early 90s cliche. Heat-baked street? Check. Twanging guitar? Check. Harmonica solo? Check.

Margaret: Based on this alone, I would definitely expect to be watching a serious action-drama about a lovable renegade cop

Anne Marie: I mean, it's in that vein. As Susan Sarandon has pointed out (love this woman, and love how much she talks about this movie), Thelma & Louise basically is an outlaw buddy movie in the vein of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.

01:10 But more on that later. Right now let's talk about HANS ZIMMER WROTE THIS SCORE?!?

Margaret: Hans Zimmer contains multitudes.

Anne Marie: As long as those multitudes contain at least one louder-than-necessary instrument solo. In all seriousness, there is a lot of talent behind Thelma & Louise, which you get to see just in the opening credits roll: Besides our two incredible leading ladies, the incomparable Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, we've got baby Brad Pitt without an ounce of baby fat on him, Harvey Keitel (happy belated birthday!), Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, and it's written by Callie Khouri, who would one day give us Nashville. Not the Altman.

Margaret: And never let us forget character actor workhorse Stephen Tobolowsky, who also appears here in compliance with state law. I also often forget that this is a Ridley Scott film. It doesn't have a "Ridley Scott film" kind of place in our cultural discourse, though it's got at least as much pop permanence as Blade Runner. (When was the last time Blade Runner got referenced in a Country radio hit?)

Anne Marie: Definitely.

02:15. Moving on, we introduce Our Fair Heroes. It's actually a great bit of screenwriting, because we learn exactly who each lady is just by this introduction

Margaret: There's our Louise (La Sarandon in finest form), who we meet at her restaurant job as she is passing some sage advice to the young patrons she’s serving about avoiding cigarettes ("It ruins your sex drive,") immediately after which she lights up in the corner of the kitchen while dialing up Thelma.

Anne Marie: Because nothing can ruin Susan Sarandon's sex drive.

02:22 When Thelma picks up, she's all hair (only Geena Davis can pull off that grown out mullet) and chaotic meekness, following behind her husband Darryl as he primps and preens and bosses her around.

Margaret: As you’ve often said, you know when someone’s bad guy because he wears a lot of jewelry and has a mustache. You get the strong feeling he’s about to go sell some cars. He’s slimy, and very dismissive of his wife, but Davis is so effervescent it almost neutralizes his negativity.

06:10 After he leaves, we're treated to a quick montage of each of our leading ladies and their different approaches to packing for their planned excursion. Louise stacks Ziploc bags of neatly rolled clothes into a perfectly accommodating suitcase. Thelma opts to dump whole drawers into her luggage.

Anne Marie: The packing montage is short, but if slowed down gives us some big reveals about Thelma and Louise. Thelma is a blur of limbs and hair as she throws things willy-nilly into her suitcase. Louise carefully puts everything in its place. Thelma stumbles through her messy house. Louise washes out one glass from the sink and dries it. So what we have are two women who are, in their own ways, utterly alone: Thelma, who has been swallowed whole by the clutter of domestic demands, and Louise, whose time is so empty that she must make an event out of packing a bag or cleaning a glass.

Margaret: If this came out now, imagine how many buzzfeed quizzes about whether you're a Thelma or a Louise would crowd our Facebook newsfeeds! And look, I found one

Anne Marie: Considering I'm sitting next to three piles of books and an unmade bed, I'd say I'm a Thelma aspiring to be a Louise.

Margaret: I'm a Louise. Especially when it comes to packing.

Anne Marie: And that, among many reasons, is why we're such great friends.

07:09 Let's take a road trip!

Margaret: Only after I get me one of those headscarves sarandon is wearing as she rolls up in that ‘66 Thunderbird convertible. Damn, though. The word iconic is hideously overused but this is definitely the time for it:  I C O N I C

Anne Marie: Absolutely! And the perfect time for a selfie! After inventing and immediately perfecting the selfie courtesy of a polaroid camera, our two intrepid heroines drive off in Louise's thunderbird to see what adventure awaits. (But not without packing Chekhov's gun.)

Margaret: Thelma loosens up so significantly the further they drive away from town. After she confesses that  the way she got Darryl to "let her" go was to not tell him, she really digs into her truancy. Lighting a cigarette and posing a little bit with it (“Thelma, what are you doing?” “....Smokin’.”) and making Louise laugh at her. 

Their dynamic is so lived-in. The friendship always feels real and deep.

Anne Marie: Susan Sarandon, as previously mentioned, is a goddess, but Geena Davis's performance as meek and naive Thelma at the beginning of this movie is startling, especially considering that at 6', she towers over everyone (except Sarandon).

Margaret: Susan Sarandon is 5'7" but you wouldn't know they were so far apart in height.

Anne Marie: Susan Sarandon is taller than I am?!? That shouldn't be a surprise, I usually have a thing for taller women.

11:30 ANYWAY, when Thelma and Louise drive up to the bar, dusk falls and the plot kicks into gear with... a line dance?

Thelma: You said you and me was gonna get out of town and for once just really let our hair down. Well darlin', look out' cuz my hair is coming down.

Louise
: Changed my mind. i’m gonna have a margarita and a shot of cuervo on the side

Okay, y'all, story time. I grew up in a state where line dancing is a very popular passtime at bars, and I have to say. This is very accurate. From the dance steps to the blue eyeshadow, not a lot has changed in the line dancing bar scene since 1991.

Margaret: Thelma is so loosened up at this point she almost doesn't need the shots she's exuberantly downing. Her hair is coming down, indeed.

13:10 Louise, on the other hand, is playing it more cool and cautious.

Anne Marie:  Louise is having none of the suitors that come up to their table. She's having none of men in general. It's either queer or it's misandrist, but the way she dismisses men with a cigarette in her hand is definite goals for me.

Margaret: And then Thelma has to go and undo all that excellent man-deflecting. Thelma, as it turns out, is a total Woo Girl.

Anne Marie: Yes, but one that hasn't hatched yet.

Margaret: 16:00 She sails off to dance with the world's most obvious scumbag, and in that moment we are all Louise.

Anne Marie: Thelma and Harlan (Scumbag) head drunkenly to the dance floor, then give Louise the slip while she's in the bathroom. Unfortunately everyone knows where this is going.

Margaret: It's a testament to the quality of the screenplay and the direction that this scene is hideously queasy to watch long before he lays a hand on her.

Anne Marie: 19:20. Outside now. I don't know how I feel about this scene. With all the discussion lately about rape and assault on TV, I found myself wondering if it had to be attempted rape that started this narrative.

In the future, when a woman's crying like that -- she isn't havin' any fun!"

Anne Marie: It adds something very Feminist Avenger to the story that the first man killed is a rapist caught in the act, but on the other hand, Butch and Sundance didn't need a moral imperative. They just liked robbing banks.

Margaret: Ultimately, though, the act of pulling the trigger feels rooted in pride. Louise had stormed in with the gun and neutralized the threat. The attempted rape was horrible, and the physical assault was brutal, but Louise had shut it down.

21:29 It was when he refused to slink away without taking another strike at humiliating them that she fired the gun. It wasn't an accident. It wasn't even self-defense.

Anne Marie: True. We're never asked to feel pity for Harlan, but making it a crime of anger and pride rather than defense does change the narrative. It's less about victimhood and more about "Fuck this asshole he deserves it." Which is more or less the moral code Thelma and Louise use for the rest of the movie.

23:45 While Thelma cries, careening through the streets, Louise sits (mostly silently) trying to figure out what to do. Pulled to the side of the rode, Thelma pitifully brushes her hair and Louise tries to gather. She's going to stop for coffee and "figure out what to do". But what on earth can that be since she refuses to go to the police? 

Continue on to Part Two

 

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Reader Comments (27)

Thunderous ovation.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Watched it recently and the man are painted as fools or on the take bar Kietel who is wonderful and Madsen who is also wonderful and totally sells the love for Louise even though she is obviously difficult to live with.

Davis is great and sells the naiveness,though she does let her hair down v quickly.

This for me is Scott's 2nd greatest movie after Alien,thanks for this.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

Stephen Tobolowsky, who also appears here in compliance with state law.
LOL.

I love this movie so much. This time threw I was noticing so many sharp details. Like when Scumbag first approaches T&L, you can see that his belt buckle has his initials on it. That is PERFECT for the character and shows the degree to which all the departments are taking this seriously.

i had totally forgotten about that beat where Thelma impersonates Louise "Smokin'" so endearing.

May 22, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Never saw the word misandrist until today. There is a word for everything. Every human emotion and point of view has been mapped out.

Harlan got what he deserved. Louise initially spared his life where she would be completely justified in shooting him in the act of attempted rape. Antagonizing someone who pistol whipped you into submission is an act of suicide.

It pisses me off that this whole movie is about the death of a white man. Think Fried Green Tomatoes and how the lead characters in the past are being hounded because a white man died. Sure the racial tone of Thelma and Louise is about a bunch of white folks and their shared American culture. But I really feel like if Harlan were anything but a white guy this would be a different movie.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

/3rtful - not everything is about race. This movie is very much about gender and systemic misogyny.

May 22, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Not accusing the movie or anyone connected to the movie with racism. It's an observation about America.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I think Callie Khouri said way back when this film was released that she originally envisioned this film as a feminist revisioning of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

I saw this with my dad 25 years ago. We both loved it. I still love it. It's one of my favorite films.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Definitely an interesting observation, /3rtful. The film is about race insofar as it is about negotiations of white womanhood in conversation with variations of white masculinity.

Harlan being a man who was not white it would have definitely been a different movie. Far more white male characters would have rushed to defend the white women's "purity" against non-white "attackers." But because Harlan was a white man, the narrative of most of the white male characters is "law and order" which blinds them to seeing/attempting to understand the women's plight. So race is definitely there, even if it's not the focus.

Had Thelma and/or Louise been black and Latina it would have also been a very different movie.

That said, I very much like the movie that WAS made, and it was definitely a refreshing change for the genre. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

I was so excited to see Anne Marie and Margaret doing a duo write up here!! What a fabulous start to what'll be an amazing series!

May 22, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

(Not to hijack this discussion, but I have to say that nearly everything in America is about race, implicitly or explicitly.)

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Great write-up! This film is near and dear - and helped push me over the edge into film fanatacism back in the day (25 years ago?! Already!?) I've seen it sooo many times and yet some of Margaret and Anne Marie's observations had never occurred to me before.

Scott's versatility and talent has never been more apparent.

Most importantly ;) will we ever see a double best actress nominated film again? During that Oscar season, I would have voted for Davis. That still hasn't changed.

Can't wait for Nick's section :)

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

So fucking embarrassed I've never seen this. The anniversary hoopla and all, I'm sitting down to watch it just this second!

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

Travis -- i know. this is why i like team projects. I hadn't really thought about the glass washing bit and I definitely never clocked that it's an achievement for Geena Davis to read timid/meek when she's an Amazon but yes. Surely.

p.s. breaks my heart that if this came out today they would pretend Geena Davis was "supporting" (sigh)

May 22, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

In 11th grade, I took a class called Mass Media and the final project could be about anything media-related. My friend Meaghan and I decided to do our project on Brad Pitt, and as a result I watched it over and over. (We should have shown the scene where he's shirtless, but I was worried about it being inappropriate, so we showed the scene at the police station instead).

I'll comment about the Brad stuff when we get there, but right now I want to thank you for starting this series. I became obsessed with this film for a little while. I am also totally a Thelma.

I remember when AFI did a 100 greatest movies series or something of that ilk, and Jane Fonda remarked that this movie is "existential". Existentialism is a difficult topic to unpack (I got a C in Philosophy at CUNY Brooklyn), but I don't think she's wrong.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjakey

It's a holiday weekend here in Canada and while everyone is planning to go out and get their hangovers ready, I'm looking for some movies to curl up and watch - this has been back on my radar since the EW article and I think maybe I'll pop this in....I had an amazing Thelma and Louise poster framed in my room in college of when T and L just blew up the tanker....damn I wish I still had it!

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterfilmboymichael

I haven't watched this classic in awhile, but I remember always being irritated by Keitel's dialect work. It may have been because I was so familiar with his Brooklyn accent that I found his voice jarring, but I'm pretty sure it's just not that good. Anyone else?

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

It was pretty good!!

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

Very nice piece. Would this movie even be made now? Doubtful. The NYT has a good article today on how super hero films are making movie stars extinct.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

I can't even begin to express what this movie means to me. Definitively one of the movies of my life. I cry buckets everythime I see it.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I am a Louise according to that Buzzfeed quiz LOL
Love this movie and both of the leading performances.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

"In the future, when a woman's crying like that -- she isn't havin' any fun!"

Susan's Oscar Clip

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

According to trivia on IMDB for the movie the screenwriter envisioned Holly Hunter and Frances McDormand as the leads. This is actually a plausible alternative version. Some of the great actresses considered for the movie are too regal and delicate to play these characters who have to be earthy and approachable.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

it's hadn't occurred to me before now but "a quick montage of each of our leading ladies and their different approaches to packing " makes me wonder: is it ever explained how this odd couple are friends?

May 23, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterpar

LOVE this movie and this series of posts, already!

May 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEllen

Margaret and Anne Marie, this was stellar and delicious reading. It kind of intimidated me to follow you two in your T-bird, except your example was also so inspiring!

May 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Looking back at certain Oscar wins, the Screenplay victory for this one feels so deserved. Especially, when this goes into such detail.

Why did this film get nominated for Director, Screenplay, Actress x2, technical x2 but no Best Picture? 1991 was a weird Oscar year.

May 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBen

par -- it isn't which is perfect. too many movies think you need to know everything that came before. i love these situations where we have to just make our own connections.

ben -- totally. I would blame Beauty & the Beast except i'm so glad that was nominated. But seriously what was Prince of Tides doing there in T&L's place?!

May 23, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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