Is Thelma and Louise a Feminist Film?

How the Role and Characterization of Men Contribute to Thelma and Louise as a Feminist Film

Being one of the most popular portrayals of feminism in the film industry, Thelma and Louise was released in 1991, when the transition between the second-wave and third-wave feminism took place. Even so, the film may have produced parallels within characters that contrasts each other and raise the controversy of whether the film is feminist or anti-feminist.

Men as the Violent Figure

Characterizing men as violent figures can amplify the physical fragility of women. For example, Darryl is characterized as a dominating man, as he always controls Thelma by never letting her out and constantly shouting at her. For example, he tells Thelma with an irritated voice and expression, “Damnit, Thelma, don’t holler like that!” Even after days of not seeing her, he stands up and shouts at her on the phone, “If you’re not back here tonight, Goddamnit, Thelma… Well, I just don’t wanna say…” while simultaneously focused on watching American football. The action of standing up and roaring at Thelma displays his dominance and outrageousness. His attitude may illustrate his ignorance and negligence towards Thelma’s feelings, thus strengthens the downgrading of men and strengthens the movie’s nature as feminist as a whole.

Although Jimmy exerts violence when Louise refuses to tell him what was happening by flipping the table, shouting, “You guys gonna leave for fuckin’ ever?”, he shows his love by coming all the way to Oklahoma City to see Louise. He even proposes to her and says, “I don’t want to lose you. And for some reason I get the feelin’ you’re about to split. Permanently”. The accurate prediction of “splitting permanently” may not only contribute as a foreshadowing of the movie’s ending, but also shows his concern and understanding towards their relationship. His other actions like waiting next to the telephone in case he misses Louise’s call and remembering what happened the first time they met reminds the audience that kind men like Jimmy still exist.

Men as the Apathetic Figure
Characterizing men as violent figures can amplify the mental fragility of women. Men are shown as apathetic to women’s feelings and safety. For instance, when Max explains to Darryl how to answer Thelma’s calls, he says, “You know, like you really miss her. Women love that shit”. The inappropriate language,his straight and ignorant facial expression indicate his apathy towards the girls’ feelings. Also, during the chase of Thelma and Louise, he orders a huge group of armed cops and tells Hal, “The women are armed, Hal. This is standard”. The fact that Max didn’t think of the girls’ safety carefully and the lethargy shown towards the feelings of women degrade men and categorize them as apathetic people.

Men as the Righteous Figure

Even though righteous men who take up the role of justice can also show women’s lack of power, it is also a symbol of hope. In the film, Hal acts as the “middleman” between the society and Thelma and Louise. He shouts in wrath to JD, “Do you think Thelma Dickinson would have committed armed robbery if you hadn’t taken all their money?” Hal was talking to Louise on the phone, he says with a sympathetic expression, “I’ll do anything”. On top of that, Hal insists he has to go to the scene and is worried that “those girls are gonna get shot”. His effort of protecting the girls and being a male cop simultaneously shows that he takes up double roles making him the symbol of gender equality and reminding the audience men like Hal exist.

The Ending

The ambiguous ending of the film can be considered as “writerly”. It invites the audience to contemplate the uncaptured scene of Thelma and Louise dying. Instead, a short clip of their happy memories were shown along with the credits in a non-diegetic positive upbeat music, “Better Not Look Down”, creating a positive ambience. Perhaps it is to celebrate the liberty of the girls and feminism. Moreover, as aforementioned, Hal symbolizes gender equality. The girls and cops represent the liberation of women and male domination respectively. The policemen were still aiming their guns at them when Hal runs toward the car desperately. This scene symbolizes the pursuit of gender equality. We can see from the camera’s back view of Hal and the car that the distance between the girls and Hal are fogged up by the sand brought up by the car. The fact that Hal was desperately chasing and catching up with the girls despite the fogginess symbolizes the desperation of achieving gender equality in the society, though there may be a lot of obstacles.

Photo Source: Thelma and Louise. Ridley Scott. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1991. Film.

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