Women with Guns: Thelma & Louise On Its 20th Anniversary vs. Hit TNT Series Rizzoli & Isles
In honor of the 20th anniversary of Thelma & Louise, Matthew Brennan’s latest “Now and Then” compares and contrasts Ridley Scott and Callie Khouri’s groundbreaking road trip and TNT’s police procedural/buddy series Rizzoli & Isles.
Louise (Susan Sarandon) pulls no punches, but she’s fastidious, too. She pins her hair back tight and tugs her jacket on as snugly as she can; her kitchen is spotless enough to be a makeshift hospital room. Thelma (Geena Davis), on the other hand, is slovenly, loud. She skitters around in a floral housedress, surrounded by so many coupons, newspaper clippings, telephone bills, and other ephemera you’d be hard pressed to tell kitchen from master bedroom. She’s also charmingly nonchalant, dropping a silver gun in her purse like an extra shade of lipstick. In Thelma & Louise , a real pistol crack of a feminist caper, the gun’s the thing.
Indeed, when a slithering cowboy named Harlan rapes Thelma in the parking lot of a roadside honky-tonk, the gun, which she’s passed off to Louise in the interim, proves pivotal. His invective is so virulent that the spit swings down in great gobs from his mouth — a primal hatred he turns on Louise when she arrives, weapon drawn. “We’re just havin’ a little fun,” he leers.
Sounds like you have a real fucked up idea of fun!” she replies. And then, her voice cracking slightly as the emotion rises up inside her: “In the future, when a woman’s crying like that, she isn’t having any fun!”
What he says next is so despicable it’s not worth printing, but needless to say it’s all the justification she needs. She shoots him dead, and her fierce retort when Thelma suggests they go to the police gets at the heart of why the movie remains so powerfully perceptive two decades on. “About a hundred goddamn people saw you dancin’ cheek to cheek with him all night!” she yells. “Like they’re going to believe that [you were raped]! We don’t live in that kind of a world, Thelma!”
Thelma & Louise is risky, hard-nosed, and freewheeling, passing through desert landscapes and low-slung towns on the way to freedom. Brilliantly, Sarandon plays Louise high-strung and nervous, dragging on every cigarette as though it’ll be her last; Davis elevates Thelma above a funny femme fatale with the merest inflection. “Somethin’s crossed over in me,” she tells Louise, her voice flickering between exhilaration for her new life and regret for wasting her old one. “I can’t go back. I couldn’t live.”
The world we do live in falls short — unfortunately, it’s still one where an attractive woman who has one too many drinks and dances cheek to cheek “had it coming to her.” Our heroines rightly give ’em hell anyway: a sleazy truck driver learns his lesson, Brad Pitt obliges us with some male objectification by baring his backside, and the police see that happiness is more than a little tract house on the prairie. I’ve always felt ambivalent about Thelma & Louise, uncertain whether it’s unquestionably happy or unbearably sad. I’ve never had the same ambivalence about Thelma and Louise themselves, because in the end their facility with a gun is less important than seeing their hands clasped together in a kind of communion, grabbing control of their destiny. Sink or swim, they’re in this thing together.
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