Elise on ''Thelma And Louise''
To: Jim Mork, Msg #124, 08/31/91 06:59pm
Subject: Re: Thelma And Louise
JM> One real signal that this is not a feminist movie is
JM> the fact that the choice made at the end, if made by
JM> all women, would mean a *lot* less women around to
JM> fight for women's rights! In short, a very bad ending
JM> for a politically-motivated piece, but an
JM> existentially valid ending for a movie intended to
JM> provoke thought while turning some kind of profit.
Well, aside from the fact that I think calling almost any piece of art a
"----ist" piece of art (whatever the --- might be) is difficult when the
culture at large disagrees on the definition of "---ism".....
....I thought it was a movie that one particular feminist respected and
found strongly moving.
I've since heard similar opinions from a bunch of other feminists, so if
by "a feminist movie" you mean "a movie that feminists feel is important and
are glad that it was made and maybe even go to see several times", then,
yes. It's a feminist movie.
In particular I thought the ending choice was a crucial artistic (and
political, if you believe that the filmmakers were politically motivated)
choice: The reaction of most moviegoers who have spoken with me has been
shock, outrage, grief, and understanding. It is precisely because the
ending is a tragedy that it *works*. To my mind, it is finally the next
next step to be taken to provoke action in the real world. (Which is
what politically motivated tragedy or drama is about, imo.)
The old old scenario is this: in many movies, a woman who claimed and
defended her own sexual autonomy wound up dead. If she chose to have sex on
her own terms, you could pretty much count on her getting shot or whatever
by the final reel. If she resisted male advances (and thus was shown to be
a "good woman") she eventually won the prize of "belonging to" a powerful
man who would protect her from the depredations of other men --- which is
not at all the same thing as her being a sexually autonomous being in her
own right. If she was bold enough or crazy enough to be sexual with
another woman, death was pretty much certain by the end of the movie, or
book. But that's a whole nother long discuassion. Suffice it to say that
women were supposed to defend their "virtue", which really meant their
status as a private sexual property of one particular man, with their lives.
That was the "I'd rather die!" scenario. She needed to preserve her value
*within* the male-dominated system, her "reputation" -- which had more to do
with whether the man who chose her was getting "damaged goods" than with how
she felt about herself.
In Thelma and Louise, these two women were not making their choice based
on its likelihood of winning them social acceptance and male protection.
Even though the good cop had promised to do his best to help them, they
chose another way out. (More on that later.) They chose death, not because
the world would not accept them, but because they would not accept the
world. Many of us who watched this movie know exactly what they felt when
they contemplated that choice. Part of it is the old, "I'd rather die on my
feet than live on my knees".
Part of it is "I've heard your promises before, and they're lies."
The ending shocks. It is supposed to. It leaves us saying, "What a
waste!" (That's what a good tragedy does: focusses our attention on the
social and other constructs which destroy human lives.) It is my opinion
that it outrages us in two particular ways, and that these calculated
effects are indeed feminist in intent.
First, we say, "Why did they have to die? Why is our society set up like
this, so that such choices are more attractive than going back to it?" Some
of us are galvanized to action; we say, "Damn it! No more women forced to
the edge! Enough!" and we pour more energy into our own actions to change
the way things are. Some of us who are rape survivors feel again our
commitment to eradicate rape, as much as is in our power to affect, and to
speak out against harrassment and oppression. To put our bodies on the line
in a way that may make such scenarios as the final scene unneccessary,
I also find outrage in the situation of the good cop. He is everyman who
opposes the womanhatred of our society, everyman who wants to see Thelma and
Louise get a fair shake, everyman who reaches out to stop the injustice.
But he is, in this instance, powerless against the actions and machinations
of his fellow men. His frustration and rage when he sees the final police
setup that brings everything to a head is the anger of a anti-sexist man
against sexist society. He is brushed aside and patronized and manhandled
in ways directly related to the way Thelma and Louise are hunted, pushed,
and betrayed. I am glad that his performance provokes outrage; I hope it
sparks more men to act *before* the car is at the edge of the cliff. Before
the boys in the four-wheel drives have their guns out and ready. Before
"the system" gives another rapist a suspended sentence, if it tries him at
In previous years, when a woman killed herself at the end of a movie, it
was possible to say, "Well, for her there just was no way out." Given what
the stakes are, given the very real war against women that is happening
every day, and given the encouragement that women are getting to be strong
and courageous and feminist (which affects all women, even those who hate
the idea of feminism), we are not able to accept the "no way out" scenario
with equanimity. Some of us, some tens or hundreds or thousands of us, are
saying, "Over my dead body." That's what Thelma and Louise said. The thing
is, though, that I think we mean it a little differently. I think we are
looking at the broken forms of Thelma, Louise, and all our sisters (and
brothers) killed by patriarchy, lying there at the bottom of the canyon, and
we are raising our eyes to the forms massed against us with their guns and
searchlights and offers of caged safety if we act the way they tell us, and
we are saying a new thing. We are not saying to them, "Over my dead body."
We are saying, "Over *yours*."
Well, that's how *I* felt about it, anyhow. Your mileage, as they say,
It certainly isn't a comfortable movie.
By the way, one of my favorite bits was where the cops tell Thelma's
husband to pretend he doesn't know about the womanhunt, and to talk sweet
to her and keep her on the phone long enough to trace it. As I recall, it
takes only one word for Thelma to read him completely and hang up on him.
I roared. It was hilarious for the simple reason that being welcoming to
her was so foreign an action to him that he sounded completely fake. Inept.
Utterly full of bullshit. It was the bullying adult who, faced with a child
who has something that he for once needs, holds out the piece of candy with
an oozing insincere smile. Whereupon the kid spits in his eye. It isn't
funny at all, really; it's tragic. But ya gotta laugh sometimes....
--- Sirius 1.0ya
* Origin: Mammals' Melting Point (1:282/8.19)
From: Jim Mork
To: Elise, Msg #214, 09/02/91 11:48am
Subject: Re: Thelma And Louise
JM>>Part of it is the old, "I'd rather die on my feet
JM>>than live on my knees".
Or maybe "I'd rather die on my feet than live on my back"? I know that
touches a sore point, but it may be apropos anyway.
JM>>(That's what a good tragedy does: focusses our attention
JM>>the social and other constructs which destroy human lives.)
Another thing a good tragedy does is spotlight how personal characteristics
can defeat an otherwise admirable character. I think a case can be made for
that in T&L, too. I think they honestly put in stuff where the two of them
could have fought more wisely but were prevented from doing so by their
history of codependence.
JM>> By the way, one of my favorite bits was where the cops tell
JM>>Thelma's husband to pretend he doesn't know about the womanhunt,
JM>>and to talk sweet to her and keep her on the phone long
JM>>to trace it. As I recall, it takes only one word for Thelma
JM>>to read him completely and hang up on him. I roared.
JM>>hilarious for the simple reason that being welcoming to
JM>>was so foreign an action to him that he sounded completely
Agreed. I thought that was inspired! I think women have a lot of that kind
of intuition all the time (even I have it, so I would guess that women have
it equally). But wishful thinking sometimes shouts it down. Can you see a
codependent woman reacting to the shaky evidence of a change of heart by her
husband or male friend by saying "I wanna go back. He's had a change of
heart". We in the audience would shout, "Don't do it! People don't change
that fast!" I took her immediate reaction to be a sign of the change she
has undergone as she experienced her personal power. No longer does she have
to sit around passively and hope someone else will solve her problems. Maybe
it was a big favor that Louise went wimpy. If she hadn't Thelma would have
allowed her to assume the husband's place. And then the "change of heart"
that her husband was pretending over the phone might work. Another humorous
part of it was the cop telling the husband what to say and saying "women
like that". Somehow, I can see a political point being made at that point,
even if the overall story wasnt totally political.
But I can also see the story being written another way. Not all movies come
out predictably. Sometimes the bad guys get away. Sometimes the good guys
lose. Consider Dr. Strangelove's ending. I can see this movie being
written in terms that would challenge *all* the cliches, with the women
finding chinks in society's armor and using it to achieve a personal
triumph, even if society itself did not change. I'm not completely sure if
that would accomplish more, but the fact is that even *this* movie ends up
with an "either/or". Either women must be "good" on the terms dictated by
males or they must face catastrophe. Maybe that is indeed the real terms of
female existence in American society. But art does not only reflect life.
Art sometimes reflects the potentialities of life. I sort of miss a "Thelma
and Louise" that could perform the latter function.
* Origin: The Terraboard, Minneapolis MN (1:282/341.0)