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Film / Thelma & Louise

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"You've always been crazy. This is just the first chance you've ever had to really express yourself."
Louise Sawyer

A 1991 British-American film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise became one of the most iconic films of the decade. Scott, Davis, and Sarandon all received Academy Award nominations, while screenwriter and intended director Callie Khouri grabbed the Oscar for her screenplay.

Naïve Arkansas housewife Thelma Dickinson (Davis) and her best friend, independent waitress Louise Sawyer (Sarandon), pile into Louise's Cool Car for a girls' weekend out. Things go downhill when Thelma is nearly raped by a stranger named Harlan (Timothy Carhart), whom Louise subsequently shoots and kills.

Rather than face almost certain prosecution, the duo decide to hit the road to Mexico; along the way, they are pursued by a sympathetic FBI agent named Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel). As they experience freedom they never had before, the long arm of the law finally corners them at the top of Grand Canyon. In one of the most iconic – and infamous – endings in cinema history, instead of surrendering, the two decide to… well… If you read the lyrics below the image, you'll get it.

This film features examples of:

  • Action Girl: Both of them, although it takes some Character Development (particularly Thelma).
  • All Men Are Perverts: The Movie: Hal and Jimmy are exceptions, though.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Addressed by the movie stars Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. When appearing as guests at the Academy Awards Geena Davis (Thelma) said she loved the ambiguous ending; Susan Sarandon (Louise) pointed out they drove over a cliff.
    Geena Davis: Maybe we got a lucky bounce.
    Susan Sarandon: It was the Grand Canyon!
    Geena Davis: (sotto voce) If we die, there's no sequel.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Harlan, right to the very end. See his Profane Last Words.
      Harlan: Bitch! I shoulda gone ahead and fucked her!
      Louise: What did you say?
      Harlan: I said suck my cock!
    • The trucker who follows and sexually harasses them on the highway. Their response? Blow up his entire truck. They had given him three chances to apologize, and he insulted them every time. The first, without retaliation. The second, they shot his tires. The third… he had it coming.
  • Attempted Rape: An attempted rape in a nightclub parking lot and what happens to the rapist afterward starts the entire crazy roadtrip.
  • Berserk Button: Harlan's little taunt to Louise sets off hers, and that's why she shoots him.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Rather than risk getting shot by the police (or the prospect of a lengthy prison term), they drive off the cliff edge into the canyon.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: While the starring duo aren't trying to mow down the state police who have finally cornered them, the movie ends with a freeze frame of their car flying into the Grand Canyon. The original cut featured the Vanishing Point ending, where the car goes flipping end-over-end as it descends into the canyon, and Slocumb walking back in disbelief - before cutting back to a static shot of the car driving towards another canyon - apparently meant to symbolize that the pair will continue traveling, even after death. At the Academy Awards, Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon joked about how to get their characters to survive for a sequel.
  • Central Theme: Taking control of your life.
  • Cerebus Call-Back: Thelma and Louise take a Polaroid photo of themselves at the start of their trip and stick it to the rear view mirror in the car. The photo flies off the mirror just as the car goes plunging into the Grand Canyon.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Thelma's gun. She packs it for the trip on the off-chance it'll be needed, and it's the subject of a gag when Louise discovers it in the bag ("Good lord, Thelma!") - but Louise then uses it to force Harlan to let Thelma go, and shoot him.
  • Chick Flick: It's considered one, despite not really following the typical formula (a chick flick is normally considered a romantic comedy that's more obviously tailored towards women). Still, its female-centered story and themes of empowerment have helped its reputation as one.
  • Comically Missing the Point: One of the film's most famous exchanges, used in the trailer:
    Thelma: Louise. Shoot the radio.
    Louise: [shoots the cruiser's stereo]
    Thelma: The police radio, Louise!
  • Crime After Crime: What starts as an act of self-defense ends with a multi-state manhunt.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The truck driver was definitely being a jerk and deserved some kind of comeuppance but blowing up his truck might have been slight overkill.
  • The Ditz: Thelma, at least initially (in reality, Geena Davis is a member of Mensa).
  • Domestic Abuse: This is the setup for everything that happens in the movie, specifically Thelma's husband (who was an emotionally and mentally abusive Manchild, but not shown to be physically abusive).
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with the title characters driving into the Grand Canyon to escape the police.
  • Driven to Suicide: The main couple. Literally.
  • Fade to White: The movie ends with a fade to white after Thelma and Louise drive off the Grand Canyon.
  • Freeze-Frame Ending: The film ends on the duo driving their car into the Grand Canyon, freezing mid-flight.
  • From Bad to Worse: Thelma and Louise's road trip keeps getting worse. Two of the biggest points: them getting all of their money stolen by J.D. and the manhunt to get them over Harlan's murder and other (comparatively) smaller crimes they perform ends with an army of cops and federal agents surrounding them from every direction but one.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery:
    • Thelma is technically cheating when she dances with Harlan, but because her husband is shown to be a possessive asshole, she's shown sympathetically. She stops short of kissing, and even tries to fend Harlan off with "I'm married". Louise also says this will count against her if the matter goes to court – as a prosecutor would try to paint a rape victim as a liar trying to cover up her infidelity.
    • Thelma sleeping with J.D. later is considered a-OK by the narrative because she has symbolically ended her relationship with Darryl – even if not legally.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Slocumb. While he might be the lawman trying to catch the girls, after he gets the full details of the case he readily understands they're victims of circumstance, shows sympathy for their situation, tries encouraging them to surrender non-violently and condemns his colleagues for using excessive numbers and weaponry when facing them. But when dealing with more unrepentant crooks like J.D., he's considerably more ruthless.
  • Good Victims, Bad Victims: Louise tells Thelma that no one will believe that she was almost raped because she was seen dancing with her attacker by the entire bar, probably because she was blamed for her own rape.
  • Gleeful and Grumpy Pairing: Thelma is the sweet, open-minded, and naive friend, while Louise is her hardened, snarky, and cynical foil.
  • Handsome Lech: Harlan is a seemingly charming good ol’ boy, but the reality is that he’s an aggressive, misogynist shit.
  • Hero Antagonist: Slocumb is the antagonist, but he's a detective trying to catch two criminals, and does his best to grant them as much leeway as possible. When Thelma robs the gas station, he chews out J.D. for robbing their money and therefore forcing them to commit more crimes.
  • The Hero Dies: Both the eponymous characters themselves at the end.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: The titular couple are heterosexual in practice, but the deepest, most important relationship in the film is their own.
  • Hostile Hitchhiker: The otherwise friendly, charming hitchhiker J.D. ends up stealing all their money and is an admitted opportunist criminal.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Louise has one that kicks off the plot. She has no good reason to kill Harlan when she does. (Though it may have prevented him from raping or abusing other women.) He'd released Thelma, was no longer a threat to them, and both were walking away from him. He just happened to push her Berserk Button with his insults. Doing it that way meant there'd be little chance of claiming self-defense (as she later points out), and fleeing the scene just made things worse.
    • Louise trusts Thelma to guard their money, despite knowing her flightiness and less-than-responsible decisions.
    • Just days after almost being raped by a guy she just met, Thelma insists they give a ride to a guy she just met, then invites him into her motel room. Even after he admits he's an ex-con and armed robber, she still leaves him alone with all their money, which he promptly steals. So to get the money back, Thelma robs a convenience store, bringing more attention on them, and getting them charged with more crimes. To make matters worse, she even told J.D. they were heading to Mexico, which he then tells the police.
  • I Have a Family: What the cop says as they lock him in the trunk of his cruiser.
    Young Cop (sobbing): I have a wife and kids, please!
    Thelma: You do? Well, you're lucky. You be sweet to 'em. 'Specially your wife. My husband wasn't sweet to me. Look how I turned out.
  • Jerkass: Harlan, Darryl, and the truck driver are all transparently repugnant. Harlan is even (out of sheer stupidity) Defiant to the End when Louise points a gun at him in the crassest way possible.
    Harlan: Bitch! I shoulda gone ahead and fucked her! [rape Thelma]
    Louise: What did you say?
    Harlan: I said suck my cock!
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: J.D., though a self-admitted career criminal and parolee, comes off as considerably more charming and likable compared to the rest of the men Thelma and Louise encounter, with the former swept off her feet and into bed with him. Then he steals Louise's life savings and flees, and reveals all that he knows of their plans to Slocumb, not to help them like the detective wants to, but to save his own skin legally.
  • Karma Houdini: Darryl. Most of the men who cross Thelma and Louise get their comeuppance in some way, but he gets off with nothing except his wife leaving him.
  • The Lopsided Arm of the Law: Over the course of the film, Thelma and Louise murder a rapist (and Louise insists that there is no way they'd be able to get away with claiming self-defense because of her murky past), rob a gas station and shoot (and accidentally blow up) a fuel tanker (to get back at another misogynistic jerk). The police manhunt to get them very quickly turns into a Federal matter and ends with them surrounded, at the edge of the Grand Canyon, by a battalion of heavily-armed police officers.
  • Lovely Angels: Thelma and Louise start off as two pretty ordinary women, but the situation they're thrown into gradually reveals how strong and competent they are.
  • Mexican Standoff: How the movie ends… until Thelma has another idea.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Brad Pitt shows a lot of his toned bod in the film, which is kind of the point.
  • Name and Name: Thelma and Louise
  • Nice Guy: Jimmy. It's especially ironic, considering his actor Michael Madsen is known for playing psychopaths.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Louise inadvertently leads the police to them when she chats to Slocumb on the phone too long, allowing them to trace the call (having earlier warned Thelma that the police will probably trace the call when she phones Darryl).
    • Thelma leaves the money she and Louise were going to use to start a new life (or at least get them as far as Mexico) in a room with a known shoplifter. And when J.D. of course takes the money, she robs a convenience store to seal her and Louise's fates. She also told J.D. they were headed to Mexico, which he tells the police when they catch him.
  • No Escape but Down: Thelma and Louise are cornered by the feds on the edge of a cliff. They decide they prefer pulling a Hail Mary and drive off the cliff than being caught. The movie ends with a freeze frame of the falling car.
  • No Kill like Overkill: There's a lot of guns pointed at the duo at the end.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever happened to Louise in Texas, it must have been bad. Given Louise's knowledge about the forensics of proving rape, and her statement about not wanting to be caught in Texas after shooting an attempted rapist, the implication is that she was raped there.
  • Phone-Trace Race:
    • The cops need Darryl to keep Thelma on the line long enough for them to trace the call and encourage him to be calm and loving toward her once he's got her on the phone. However, the moment Darryl greets her with a cheerful "Honey!", she knows something's up and hangs up immediately.
    • Later played straight, when Louise phones Slocumb. Slocumb doesn't want the call to be traced, sensing that with a little negotiation, the women can be convinced to turn themselves in. But another officer traces the call and dispatches the Feds, escalating the situation.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Hey, the cop who pulls them over is just doing his job.
  • Punk in the Trunk: The two girls lock the cop in his trunk with air holes provided.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Hal, who is also the Only Sane Man. Unfortunately, neither woman knows Hal has the best of intentions for them.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: When the film begins, nervous, naive housewife Thelma is Blue, while independent and adventurous Louise is Red (see Tomboy and Girly Girl below). Halfway through the film, they switch when Thelma takes a level in badass and becomes more ruthless and reckless, just as Louise begins to have doubts.
  • Road Trip Plot: It starts with a planned weekend vacation, and turns into running for the border. Most of the film takes place in the car.
  • Rule of Cool: Numerous continuity errors throughout the film. The route supposedly taken makes little sense, and who can drive or ride in the back of a convertible wearing a cowboy hat? The shot showing Louise's foot switching from brake to accelerator comes after the car is already moving.
  • Run for the Border: After Louise has shot a man who tried to rape Thelma, they decide to flee to Mexico, but Louise has one condition-
    Thelma: "You want to run from Oklahoma to Mexico, but you don't want to go through Texas?"
  • Second-Face Smoke: Louise smokes in front of Harlan's face in an attempt to get rid of him.
  • Shoot the Fuel Tank: Not just the fuel tank but the whole damn truck. Subverted in that the girls were actually playing at shooting his tyres out, one by one.
  • Slut-Shaming: Louise points out that people would deny Thelma's claim of Attempted Rape due to Thelma flirting, dancing, and drinking with the man.
  • Sore Loser: The only thing closely resembling a rational explanation on why Harlan and the sexist trucker keep running their mouths with guns trained on them.
  • Surprise Vehicle: A helicopter arises from the Grand Canyon.
  • Tagline: "Somebody said get a they did."
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Though outwardly they're both pretty girly, Louise is introduced as the independent, adventurous, worldweary Tomboy who thinks a weekend in the wilderness fishing is the perfect getaway, while Thelma is the timid, naïve, trusting Girly Girl whose entire identity is wrapped up in her role as a housewife.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Both Harlan and the pervert trucker continue to talk dirty and/or throw insults while having guns pointed at themselves.
  • Took a Level in Badass: About halfway through the film, Thelma goes from timid and hysterical to carrying out some of the pair's most daring crimes, including robbing a convenience store, forcing a cop into the trunk of his own cruiser, and ultimately suggesting she and Louise die rather than surrender to the police.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Darryl, Thelma's husband, sees Louise as being this to Thelma.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Louise pulls over to vomit minutes after she killed Harlan. According to Susan on the DVD Commentary, it was egg whites, which is also used in sex scenes.
  • Wham Line:
    Thelma: Let's keep going (which would mean drive over the cliff right in front of them).
    Louise: What do you mean?
    (long pause)
    Thelma: ... go!
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Hal is pretty outraged at the end of the small army of police cars complete with assault weapons and sniper rifles, all for two fleeing women.
    Hal: Hey, don't let them shoot those girls! This is too much! You have guns pointed at them!
    Hal: How many times?! How many times are they going to be fucked over?!
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Thelma's one-night-stand with J.D. can be thought of as this: he gives her what is apparently her first ever enjoyable sexual experience with a man, only to steal all of her and Louise's cash the next day when she leaves him alone in her motel room. On the other hand, she then uses the technique he showed her on how he carries out his armed robberies to carry out her own robbery of a liquor store to replenish the money he stole.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Yes, she would Harlan. Yes, she would. The boorish trucker from later also counts considering he thought saying "FUCK YOU!!" to an armed woman with a gun pointed in his direction was a smart idea, though he got off much easier with only his truck blown up. Both characters seemingly buy into the extremely outdated belief that a woman doesn't have it in her to kill, only to be proven very very wrong, though the fatal part only applies to the former-mentioned dirtbag.