Thelma and Louise (1991)
The movie, Thelma and Louise that was released in 1991, has been chosen to portray the application of feminist theory in reviewing a film. The feminist theory describes the perspective of everyday society in what it expects men and women to do and what is taken as the norm. There are different types of feminist theories and in this case, radical feminism has been selected to analyze the film, Thelma and Louise. This film plays the critical role of highlighting the impact of feminism on the film industry by posing a challenge to the social and film industry patriarchy. The movie uses women’s eyes and experiences to change the views that spectators have on women as well as giving women a voice in fighting male dominance (Heller-Nicholas, 2012).
The selection of this movie and the use of radical feminism theory for reviewing is based on a number of reasons. First, Thelma and Louise brings out some very strong gender stereotypes that are present in the society and as portrayed by the media and reinforce the negative attitude towards women as the lesser gender. The leading characters in the movie, Thelma and Louise highlight the kind of relationships they have with other male characters, describing the kind of pains and struggles women have to endure from male oppression. The male characters are also well portrayed, highlighting the dominance of one gender over another and what happens when one gender fights against this dominance (Cook, 2010).
The film has been described as feminist because it highlights gender equality and struggle against the dominance of one sex; it represents a confrontation with men, violence and women. Radical feminism considers women domination as one of the worst kind and oldest oppression in the world. Radical feminists believe this to be true since it is experienced in all corners of the world, where women of different cultures, ethnicities, races and classes are oppressed. The theory argues that rigid gender roles have been imposed on both men and women, which confines them to rigid social roles. The theory also looks at the link between female subordination, rape, sex, abuse and porn and advocate for their elimination (Buchanan, 2011). In this movie, the radical feminism theory is brought out through Thelma and Louise describing their transformation, as they become more assertive and courageous women who stand against continued male oppression.
The film, Thelma and Louise, focuses on a friendship between two women and their adventures when they decide to take a weekend road trip to take a break from their respective husband and boyfriend. However, after traveling for a few hours, the women decide to enter a roadhouse where an incident with a male customer marks the beginning of their troubles as outlaws. In this first incident, Thelma is assaulted by a man named Harlan, who also attempts to rape her in the car park, but Louise interferes and ends up shooting and killing the man. The murder causes the women to panic, and they decide to flee. Louise is afraid that the police will not believe their story and convinces Thelma that they should not report the incident (Heitmann, 2015).
Louise plans to go to Mexico and arranges for her boyfriend, Jimmy to send all her life savings to her at a location on their way, but the boyfriend presents himself at the telegraph office because has an interested to find out what has happened. In the beginning, Thelma is hesitant about joining Louise on her journey to Mexico but this change soon enough due to a different turn of events. As Louise and Jimmy spend their last night together discussing their relationship, Thelma also spends the night with a attractive young hitchhiker whom she has just met. The next morning, the two women find out that the hitchhiker stole all of Louise savings and Thelma is forced to not only rob a convenience store to cover the costs of the trip but also decides to join Louise on her trip to Mexico (Heitmann, 2015).
As all this occurs, a concurrent police investigation is taking place whose initial purpose is to question Thelma and Louise for the shooting, but the search intensifies after Thelma’s carries out the robbery. The inquiry takes place from Thelma’s house after her husband grants the police permission. Finally, the police are able to trace the location of the two using a phone call made by Thelma to her husband. The two women are cornered by the police increased force, which leaves Thelma and Louise with the choice of surrendering or shoot their way out. However, the women come up with a different option, and the film ends with Thelma and Louise driving into the Grand Canyon, preferring to die rather than surrender (Heitmann, 2015).
The film utilizes the voice of women, to tackles a subject matter that is not well spoken about and challenges the patriarchal society of the culture of American people, their laws and lives as reflected in the world and film. The two female characters are used to make a statement about female self-assertion and empowerment. For the heroines in the film, and especially Thelma, transformative violence is used for spiritual liberation. Feminism theory supports that violence against women is accepted, and it is the norm to destroy the lives of all women who put up resistance or simply trying to go about their everyday life in the patriarchal world. However, when female violence is used to go against the male dominance and the suffocating oppression, it is considered as a threat to the same world (Heitmann, 2015).
The killing of Harlan by Louise when he goes on to say how he should have raped Thelma demonstrates the women’s new found freedom to say no to sex. Radical feminism fights for women’s right to have equality in the sex arena and sexuality. It also enlightens the society to treat women differently when it comes to the areas of their self-defense and self-protection. The character development of Thelma and Louise leads to a strong awareness of the issues of violence that women encounter. It also brings out the psychological empowering of the women positive power to fight against male victimization and expectations and adapt to change.
After Louise rescues Thelma from Harlan’s attack, she vomits alongside the road, but once she recovers from her short illness, she is stronger. She finds the strength she needed to leave her boyfriend, Jimmy, who has been afraid to commit to her for a long time. Jimmy has decided to meet her in Oklahoma City ready to propose to her after thinking Louise was dumping him. Thelma finds her strength after she overcomes her dislike for guns, commits armed robbery, and shots and blows the truck owner who sexually harasses them and refuses to apologize in their third encounter. After Louise has killed, the film places the two women on a path of freedom and exultation, and they get stronger as they experience more freedom and use violence as each tries to overthrow of male dominance (Williams & Hammond 2006). While overthrowing the male dominance, the women are able to find passionately themselves, recognize their potential, feelings and identities such that they refuse to give up this newly found freedom. This is to the extent that a male in the film sympathizes with them. Having been able to finally make their choices, speak their mind, and take responsibility for their actions, they were not willing to relinquish such freedom. Their free choice as well as being fully aware of what this choice of not relinquishing their freedom meant is an extraordinary resolution that dignifies them (Heitmann, 2015).
After robbing the convenience store, Thelma is thrilled and as the two are traveling down the road at 110 miles per hour Thelma looks at Louise and tells her “It was like I was born to do this.” Louise then answers with “Think you found your calling?” Thelma conversation with Louise shows that she has found her identity and ability to express her voice and feelings, especially when she says, “Something has crossed over in me. I just can’t go back. I feel awake, wide-awake. I never felt this before, like I got something to look forward to.” She is now free from male oppression. Louise is also not a stranger to the male patriarchal sexual moles as it is revealed that she still carries a psychological baggage from Texas. This is also the reason she knows so much about the law, the legal and penal system explaining why she refused they go to the police in their first incident (Heitmann, 2015).
Radical feminism is portrayed by the films ability to bring out the stereotypical characters that are associated with both genders. In this case, Thelma and Louise focus on the two main female characters whereby each one of them displays a certain stereotype of a female in America. The character of Thelma suggests that she is a traditional female, and somewhat of the 1950’s that emphasizes women’s dependence as stereotyped by the media. As a homemaker, she is highly dependent on her husband and appears somewhat immature because most of the times she fails to evaluate the consequences of her actions or fails to plan ahead. In the first scenes, it can be seen that Thelma felt the need to ask her husband to allow her to take the weekend trip with her friend, but she was fearful and left him a note instead. Contrary, Louise is single, has a job as a waitress that enables her to support herself, she is cautious and has an altitude that is at times suspicious towards the world. Louise is more experienced than her friend because she is used to making a decision on her own, supports herself, and, therefore, she appears to embody a woman who is more modern, with the stereotypical male attributes of self-reliance and assertiveness (Heitmann, 2015).
In different scenes of the film, the two characters act out their roles either in a verbal or non-verbal manner. In this trip, Thelma is the passive passenger as Louise is mostly the driver of the car they are traveling in, and which she also the owner. The stop at the fateful roadhouse happened because Thelma resorted to a whining and pleading tone, to which Louse had to agree but like a parent saying “O.K., just for a minute”. After rescuing Thelma in the parking lot, it appears as if Louise is babysitting her as she repeatedly tells her she will figure out what to do. In addition, after Thelma realizes later in the film that Louise could have been raped in the past, she does not want to talk about it, holding back her feelings, which is similar to the males’ typical fashion. Thelma transforms to being assertive after J.D makes away with Louise’s money and she decides to rob a store to get cash for the trip. This marks the point where the two friends start interacting more as equals until the end of the film. Unlike in the earlier incident where Louise has to make a decision alone not to go to the police since it would not help, Thelma demonstrates her assertiveness in a scene where she concludes together with Louise that they were right to run away since Harlan would not have faced the law (Heitmann, 2015).
A little bit later in their journey, Thelma says how she thinks she went a little crazy with her acts and Louise responds that she had just been given her first chance to express herself well. Her maturity is reinforced when she tell Louise that they have to keep on going after being surrounded by the police, she proposes they drive off the cliff, and Louise agrees. The character of Thelma transformed to become more like that of Louise while Louise’s did not change. This supports the feminist message that it is more desirable for women to express independence and assertiveness as compared to men. Both characters had repressed feeling concerning the men in their life that they eliminated. Thelma sleeps with J.D to get rid of her burden of dependence on her husband while Louise gets rid of her feelings of anger associated with her rape that has been stored for long in her when she kills Harlan. The relationship between the two highlights the recent and older views of gender expectations. It also acts as a vehicle for expressing anger towards a wide range of damaging make behaviors like taking women as sex objects, which can result in rape that is still common (Rowland, 2015).
The kind of relationships that the two women have with the men in the film is also another area that portrays radical feminism issues. The stereotypical male characters in the film play a critical role in the story because by depicting the kind of relationships the men have with the two women, showcases certain gender stereotypical ways that men and women still treat each other. Darryl, the husband to Thelma, is selfish and intolerant towards his wife. He has not realized throughout the movie that his wife’s unhappiness and subsequent rejection of him is because of his unfair treatment towards her. For instance, Thelma calls her husband shortly after Harlan’s murder to explain where she is among other things, but he does not get the explanation because he is concentrating on a football game. He does not treat her with love or tenderness, but simply gives her orders to go back home. He also has a double standard attitude towards their marriage since the night before he had not felt the need to call and inform Louise that he would be out most of the night. A comical scene between Darryl and the police occurs that informs the audience what men perceive to be women needs and which can be at times be a source of miscommunication between genders. As they try to find out the location of the two women through a phone tap, the police suggest to Darryl that he should try to be uncharacteristically gentle with his wife. It, therefore, becomes obvious to Thelma that something is not right because her husband is not usually nice (Hankin, 2007).
In the case of Louise, her boyfriend Jimmy is more compassionate in that he appears loving and assists her without being adamant on controlling her actions or being informed about her situation. However, the audience learns that he is not ready to commit to Louise, which causes pain to her. In fact, Louise planned to go on this road trip because her boyfriend had not been giving her enough attention and his interest in her is renewed after Louise gets into trouble after the shooting. Louise conveys her feelings to Thelma about the typical males who are reluctant to commit by telling her “Jimmy’s like any other guy, he just loves the chase.” Another man J.D the drifter also takes advantage and uses Thelma and Louise. His previous night actions and words especially when he says “I may be an outlaw, but you’re the one stealing’ my heart.” Make it clear how insincere he is when the two women find out that he stole their money the next morning.
The other male characters with minor roles are also similar according to Thelma and Louise. At the roadhouse, Harlan objectifies the women using the term Kewpie Doll, which Louise is quick to take with suspicion. The scene in the parking lot where Louise rescues Thelma, the male character purports that they are just having a little fun to which Louise replies that his idea of fun is very unusual. The scene brings out the stereotypical themes of the media, which portray women as sex objects or victims and the men as aggressors. The reply from Louise represents the voice of all women who demand that men should be respectful towards them (Heitmann, 2015).
Another minor male character is the truck driver who goes on making vulgar gestures towards Thelma and Louise representing all the men who have entered into any life of a woman and catcalled, whistled or did any other related actions to women who were strangers to them. The police officer is another funny and stereotypical male due to his big size, strength, uniform and the gun. However, he changes to a whimpering clown after the women take away the gun from him. The sympathetic police officer who attempts to stop the disaster at the end of the film and communicates with Louise on the phone is consistent in addressing Thelma and Louise as girls but not women (Heitmann, 2015).
It is also important to point out that even as the movie nears its end when Thelma and Louise have gained confidence in asserting themselves with the male characters, they remain polite excessively. Even as they carry out their violent activities like locking the policeman in the trunk, robbing the store or shooting at the truck driver, they use the words please, thank you and apologize. The ending that Thelma and Louise’s experience is inevitable despite that fact that the two may have been justified to shot Harlan. The laws concerned with rape and assault still provide too much favor to the perpetrator. The film, therefore, highlights the continued powerlessness that women in the society experience. The film presents some mixed messages. For example, the audience gets the idea that Darryl and the policemen are shocked and are in disbelief that nice girls like Thelma and Louise could do things like that. However, in the last seen the caring policeman is seen trying to plead with his colleagues not to hurt the two women. This presents an extraordinary acknowledgment that the tight spot under which Thelma and Louise have found themselves in has been caused by the injustices of a sexist society (Mennel, 2014)
The last few minutes of the film shows their convertible descended upon by many police cars flashing lights and sirens and a helicopter that rises from the Grand Canyon jumping into their faces. The women know that they have come to the end of their road, but none of them is ready to give up. Here, radical feminism is reinforced at the end again where instead of choosing to die fighting as other male characters have been depicted in other films; the women choose to commit suicide. The film avoids showing the two main characters dying in the hands of an army of male police officers even if the alternative is also not encouraging. It seems like they feel the men have won, and there is no need to fight back. The women may have felt in a strange way that death was the only solution for preserving their freedom, but it also enlightens women that it is not possible to get out of such a situation or challenge the system. Despite this sad ending, the film brings out the radical feminism theory by showing how the men in the society see women and what limits the power of women in the society (Scholz, 2009).
According to radical feminism theory, the film manages to bring out both positive and negative issues affecting gender roles. Various issues associated with common sources of women anger as they relate to men in different situations are brought out. The film brings out the radical feminist theory in the way Thelma and Louise have grown their confidence and become more fearless throughout the film. Although Louise was still fearless at the beginning of the film, the two women become more assertive and take the characteristics that are usually used by men and made them their own in fighting male dominance and oppression. The film represents the women as a symbol of freedom from the stereotypes of sexist, and although they are corned by the police in the end and decide not to give up their freedom to them and instead cliff of the cliff, they can still be considered to have stood up against patriarchy and male dominance (Maxwell, & Scott, 2014
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