Thelma and Louise is an iconic film that is widely referenced in popular culture but one that, until last weekend, I’d never seen in its entirety. Having seen it now I wonder how many people talk about it or refer to it without having actually sat through it.
I say that because despite its status as something of a cinematic classic, I really don’t think it is a very good film at all. The script, plot and characterization are all poor, and the direction and acting fail to make up for it. The central problem is that this felt to me like a very unsympathetic story. Almost everyone in the film (including the women) is unpleasant, selfish and destructive, and several characters take these traits to extremes. There is nothing wrong with this in itself: many such men do exist, and sexual violence was and remains all too common in our society, even pervasive. The film highlights this with an unrelenting atmosphere of violence and sexual abuse. But as events unfold there is an unsettling feeling that you are witnessing a macabre and desperate reaction to this culture of violence, a pastiche of rebellion.
The shooting which spurs Thelma and Louise’s flight to Mexico is understandable in context, but hardly anything they do after that makes sense. As the film goes on it is increasingly hard to relate to their behaviour; Louise is not quite so bad, but Thelma eventually becomes so reckless that I started to wonder if she suffered from a personality disorder of some kind. The film takes on a nihilistic tone long before the ending, as if Thelma and Louise were impelled towards a certain conclusion regardless of the circumstances. It’s weird.
The film has a famous ensemble cast featuring Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and an early showing from Brad Pitt’s abs. There is some serious overacting here, but I think the cast is driven to that by the script–these are more caricatures than characters. Keitel is just poor, at times reading his lines in such a stilted fashion it makes you think he’s never spoken the language before. These are all actors who I’ve enjoyed in other films but I didn’t like at all here, again suggesting the film’s central problem lies elsewhere.
One of the high points of the film is the scenery, and some of the cinematography of the open road is impressive. This is a road trip movie after all. But it goes on too long and they could easily have trimmed twenty minutes from its two hours plus run time. Ridley Scott directs and this film, like most of his others, felt pretty soulless to me.
I don’t regret watching Thelma and Louise at all. It is an important film and a cultural landmark in terms of the popular response to its depiction of violence against women. But that may have been a result of coming out at the right time, rather than the artistic merits of the film itself. This is not a good film and I don’t think I’ll be watching it again.