What about Thelma and Louise?

Could Thelma and Louise possibly be on a female hero’s journey?

  • Thelma and Louise.  1991. Ridley Scott director. Callie Khouri writer.
  • You might want to watch the TRAILER.   It’s pretty informative, too, in its way.  You’d think this was a kick ass girlie comedy.

Back when this movie came out I was as caught up with it as anyone.  And it’s stayed strong in the way it represents that time.  Rewatching, even knowing what I know now, I feel energy from it.  But I’ve always had problems with the ending.  The unexpectedness of going over that cliff was one of the main reasons for the movie’s popular success.  But think about it, the women kill themselves.

From the opening frames the women’s action is defined by what the men do or do not expect.  This is the most obvious sign that this script is a female narrative struggling inside the male narrative, rather than it being an early sign of a Narrative Otherways.   Thelma and Louise never engage in the just-being-themselves buddy fun they set out to have.  They’re always on the run from male containment: fleeing town and “not telling Darryl” because he’d say no, firing the gun to stop the rape of Thelma (what else could that man expect after all those sexy dance moves?) triggering the reactive fear of the backstory rape of Louise which motivates everything from then on including the choice of roads.  Most tellingly, the men expect a gun battle where they’ll have to kill the women.  Or they expect they will, once cornered, surrender.   But they never expect that Thelma and Louise, buddy hands clasped in solidarity? victory? will choose their own death.   And in that exercise a choice to exit the story completely.

And I’m not even going to go into why in the world two women on the run would keep that car!   Cause it looked so pretty, just like they did, going over a cliff?

Well, here’s an answer or two about that car, along with a multitude of other critical decodings, in Salon netizen and filmmaker Caryn Cline’s writing about the movie.   “What do you think you’re looking at?”: Gazes and Pleasures in Thelma and Louise.  Read it here Thelma and Louise


Your Lookout remains always open to all suggestions of narrative evidence of the  Female Hero’s Journey.  And so we’ve another entry in our debate round its possible existence in Nikita was no Charlie’s Angel. 2011.  This is a weblog posting by Reel Grrls founder and executive director Malory Graham on the occasion of presenting an award at Seattle’s 20/20 Awards to La Femme Nikita, 1990. Directed & written by Luc Besson.  Ms. Graham herself is worth a watch in the youtube video on her Grrlblog as she eloquently makes her case for the heroine of the film being a new female action figure.

“Nikita was no Charlie’s Angel—she was scrappy, tough and morally ambiguous. She was punk. Nothing like the saccharin, botoxed male-fantasy female action heroes that have been spawned byHollywood since then.”  Released in 1990, two years before Thelma and Louise, is Nikita’s story a possible contender for the Female Hero’s Journey?  At least she doesn’t have to go off any cliffs…”   Marlory Graham

In this category of  female heroics, and journeys spawned by them, I’ll submit  Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, 2005.  Directed by Marc Rothemund, written by Fred Breinersdorfer.  To say this is a German movie instead of a French one (as in oh so La Femme above) spells out some of the difference, but not all.  That is, there’s nowhere near the stylishness in this oh so German tale, or snappy action that gets your heart pumping.  The heart pounding’s more of the sort found in growing dread mixed with empathetic wonder.  So if you’re the type that thinks of the verbal clash of intellectual ideologies as conflict (and I admit, yes, to that cinematic weakness) then this war time story of the battle of wills and brains and heart between a Gestapo brand fascist and a thinking daughter and fiercely loyal sister might be up your alley.  “We fight with words,”  she says, and that just about says it all.  Much about faith here, both in the religious sense of a higher being but also of a faith in our ability to become higher human beings.

    • Kathy
    • September 29th, 2010

    I was thinking some more about T&L – funny how thoroughly we seem to
    remember it – and recognizing that the oh-so-clearly-defined resolution at
    the end was all about how “easy” it finally was to choose not to live
    anymore in a culture defined by the kind of men who stood there with their
    guns drawn ready to bring these outlaws to justice. Those men were the very
    embodiment of the logical extreme of the male narrative: they were its
    enforcers, its officials, its “authorities” – and they were no less obscene
    in their assumptions about “justice” than those other yahoos were in their
    assumptions about what that girl really wants to do out in the parking lot.
    Really, the depictions of the men in that movie – except for Brad Pitt who
    also, in his own way, took advantage of them – were of an archtype gone
    totally, pathetically corrupt. About where we are now, wouldn’t you say?

  1. January 1st, 2011
  2. May 18th, 2011
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