Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott)

Awaiting a grotesque.

Not much of a stranger to woman empowerment due to his strong heroine in the form of Ellen Ripley in "Alien", Ridley Scott got this optimistic feminine absolute out of the infinite confines of outer space and brought it closer to home and into a more realistically compelling social milieu in "Thelma & Louise", an essential piece of feminist cinema that has paved way for other similar films to be accepted as mainstream expressions of the thematic core that is the emotional unraveling of women.

The film initially unfolds with the titular characters' slightly daring attempt to elude the exhausting and tightening grip of the male-dominated order of life, so they planned to get away for a temporary vacation for some R&R. In a brief moment, as Thelma prepares, she saw a gun inside her drawer (as I have found out, this narrative technique is called a "Chekhov's Gun"). Without any attention to details, she quickly puts it into her bag. Director Ridley Scott shot this brief scene without any foreboding of sorts. He downplayed the whole moment with some (as I recall) considerably, soothingly adventurous background music, making us join the whole emotional road trip from the start like nothing out of the usual is expected and things won't even go into the slightest hint of ominousness.

Suddenly, Thelma was sexually harassed in the parking of a bar and Louise then shot the attacker. They fled the scene (Do not worry, those are nothing but basic narrative expositions seen in almost all of the film's plot description; it's not a 'you've taken away a part of me'-type spoiler) and from that point on, it's not much of a reality-grounded story than it is an arresting commentary about the current state of women in the social hierarchy and a de-objectifying adventure of two carefree, defiant souls who try to unconsciously teach some male grotesques an overdue lesson or two.

It starred Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon as Thelma and Louise, respectively. From the film's halfway and beyond, their performances display somewhat a sense of fluid rebellion and uninhibited aggression. As they run for their lives and from captivity, they also slowly come to terms with their fate as their plan into Mexico fades. And no, it's not a kind of reckless desperation commonly displayed by hardened outlaws, but more of a series of acts performed so their presence can be felt, albeit the barren landscapes, as they flap their wings to fly against the winds of conformity (I've already used that 'winds' thing on my "Easy Rider" review, but that does not necessarily suggest that "Thelma & Lousie" is strictly an emergent counterculture fare) and into a cathartic landscape of emotional freedom. The film is also surrounded by strong supporting performances by Harvey Keitel, a surprisingly tender Michael Madsen, a young Brad Pitt and consistently dependable character actors Stephen Tobolowsky ("Memento's" Sammy Jankis) and Christopher McDonald.

Wherever I may really look at it, "Thelma & Louise" shouts of Cheris Kramarae's Muted Group Theory with all of its radical upper-handedness and shared thoughts and ideas about feminism. But I also think of the film as a tragic yet sweet observation about repression, scarred pasts and hope regardless of its backdrop that is seemingly an ode to expressive crimes.

But through all the two main characters' critical violations of both the established social norms and grips of the law, Thelma Dickinson and Louise Sawyer stayed true to themselves and their companionship. They might have gotten too far at some point in their journey (but can be particularly blamed to their awkward decisions and other people's utter provocations), but they embraced the fact that their uncommon Thunderbird journey to hesitate the chains of social stereotypes and get away from their criminal liabilities wasn't an instinctive transgression but a compulsive expression. After all, they just wanted to fly.

As I watch "Thelma and Louise", I expected an encapsulating crime tragedy like that of the same dually-titled "Bonnie and Clyde". I never thought that it will be such an exhilarating, contemplative, even inspiring piece of road trip cinema.


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