FEATURE THELMA & LOUISEF
OF THE ROAD
Surprise box office hit of the summer is Thelma & Louise. A film which turns convention on its head, putting two women firmly in the driving seat for a bullet-riddled, comic outlaw odyssey across the American heartland. As debate rages over the film’s potent mix of sexual threat, violence and self-discovery, Trevor Johnston meets the man in the middle, British director RIDLEY SCOTT.
ure you can mark it out as a formula scenario — the classic road movie with the familiar fish-out-of-water routine. But instead of the usual playfully antagonistic male buddy duo on a learning curve as they eat up the miles. here it‘s an Arkansas housewife and her waitress pal who leave domesticity for dust. throwing out in their wake a trail of murder. mayhem and frustrated law enforcement officers across several states.
This is one of those fairly rare Hollywood
movies which has sparked something akin to a slow-burning chemical reaction. Thus far i indeed, Thelma & Louise has aroused all 57 i varieties ofcritical response. “A butt-kicking: feminist manifesto‘ reckoned The Miami ' Herald, yet ‘degrading to men’ quoth the : New York Daily News who suggested it should be banned for justifying ‘armed robbery. manslaughter and chronic drunken driving‘. Our own Sight and Sound discerned an ‘ambivalent. indeed covertly repressive attitude towards women who take their lives into their own hands‘ whereas the US News called the film a ‘paean to ‘ transformative violence . . . an explicit fascist theme wedded to the bleakest form of feminism‘. A month after the film opened in the States. it became clear that it had struck such a sensitive cultural nerve that Time magazine gave it the full treatment — cover story plus page after page of analysis opening with the words ofa lesbian activist from LA who hailed it as ‘thc first movie I‘ve ever see which told the downright truth‘. Not that Ridley Scott is perhaps the first person you would come to for an earnest consideration of feminine identity. He may well agree with one newspaper description ofhimselfas an ‘average, partially reconstructed modern male‘ but there‘s not much in his visually exquisite filmography to prepare us for Thelma & Louise‘s bullshit-free survey of the state of the sexes. Then again, much of the credit has to go to first-time screenwriter Callie Khourie. a former LA rock video producer who got so
fed up with Hollywood‘s idea of roles for
s'rhc List lZ—ZSJuly 1991
women (‘They were never driving the story because they were never driving the car‘ she told Time magazine) that she sat down at the typewriter and took the matter into her own hands
‘I don‘t know why it hadn’t already been picked up by someone before I read it,‘ reflects Scott, looking every inch the successful ad-man turned movie director in a pastel suit and white shirt combo, ‘because apart from some slight adjustments Callie‘s script was all there in the first reading.‘ With his bluff north of England accent and manner pretty much intact, Ridley looks like he’d be more at home talking about truck design or makes of helicopter but this deep into the interview schedule for Thelma and Louise you still get the sense that he’s genuinely wrestling with the mercurial set of issues the film raises.
In the film‘s major uncomfortable moment. a concise summary of its stance on sex and power. the words ‘suck my cock‘ draw a swift response — a bullet through the heart. In the car park of a roadside bar. Thelma has been feeling queasy after a little too much to drink. but the local redneck Romeo has manoeuvred her into the fresh air with only one thing on his mind. As a grim sexual assault takes place over a car bonnet. Louise arrives on the scene and. with a handgun pointed at the back ofhis head. stops the attacker from going any further. Backing off but still arrogant. he picks the wrong woman to taunt. for his sneering innuendo is answered with a fatal gunshot.
For Thelma & Louise an innocent weekend break ends here. From now on they‘re on the wrong side of the law, speeding farther and farther away from the constraints of humdrum everyday life of husbands. boyfriends and pursuing cops. Yet it is precisely this escape from the domain of male authority which allows them. for the first time in their lives perhaps, to gain a real sense oftheir own identity.
‘There‘s a point in this movie where these two characters clearly go through a change in finding themselves.‘ Scott explains.