In honor of the recent anniversary of the release of Thelma and Louise, (May 24, 1991) I finally finished the final post of the breakdown of the hero’s journey in road trip movies series – Thelma and Louise is one of the most iconic, kick-ass, friendship bonding road trip movies of all time.
Warning: full spoilers ahead.
I put this one off for awhile because, to be honest, on the re-watch, I found it kind of depressing. When I first saw this movie I was (ahem) a little younger and at the end I was like “Yeeaahh!! Live free or die!” Now, I’m wishing they’d made it to Mexico and lived happily ever after. But I digress.
Fed up with her boyfriend, live-wire Arkansas waitress Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) persuades her friend Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis), a naïve housewife burdened with a negligent, sexist husband, to hit the road with her for a simple weekend of freedom. But after accidentally killing a man, the two friends wind up outlaws blazing a cathartic trail across America. Callie Khouri won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
Louise is a diner waitress with attitude who owns a green 1966 Thunderbird and is ready for a vacation from her commitment-phobic boyfriend.
Thelma is a housewife in a depressing marriage to a total asshole.
Call to Adventure
Louise calls Thelma to make sure she’s ready for their impending weekend fishing trip.
Refusal of the Call
Only problem is, Thelma doesn’t have the courage to tell her husband Daryl.
Meeting With the Mentor
Thelma stops by the diner, asks Louise what to pack for the trip. “Everything,” Louise replies offhandedly, but Thelma takes it to heart. She decides to leave him a note on the microwave instead. She even packs a gun, then asks Louise to carry it in her purse because she doesn’t know how to use it. She admits she didn’t tell her husband Daryl that she’s leaving, much to Louise’s’ delight and amusement. As they drive out of town, Thelma mugs for the side mirror, imitating Louise right down to the cigarette, only it’s unlit. Thelma is ready to have some fun for once.
Crossing the First Threshold
Thelma is so determined to have fun on her first vacation in forever that she convinces Louise to stop at a roadside bar before continuing on to the fishing cabin. Big mistake. Big. This is the part in the movie where you’re like “NO. Keep going. For God’s sake, keep on driving.”
At the bar, a particularly flirty guy, Harlan, sets his sights on Thelma, and they dance and have a few drinks. Pretty soon Louise is ready to hit the road again. While Louise is making one final pit stop, Harlan takes a drunk and dizzy Thelma outside to the parking lot to “get some air.” He then tries to rape her. Just as the situation is getting really brutal, Louise shows up in all her bad-ass glory, wielding the gun Thelma had given her. She gets Thelma away from Harlan the rapist, but as they are turning to leave, Harlan has to have the last ugly, taunting word. That was his dumb-ass mistake. It’s the thing that sets. Louise. off. She turns around and blows the motherfucker away.
Thelma and Louise peel off from the scene in Louise’s green Thunderbird, horrified and scared. They are now on the run.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Thelma freaks out. Louise pulls it together, tells Thelma that everything is going to be OK. They are on the run, and the police are pursuing them in the form of the police inspector, Hal, (Harvey Keitel), (ENEMY) who interviews the waitress about the women last seen with the murder victim.
Thelma and Louise stop at a motel, and Louise calls her boyfriend Jimmy (ALLY) to arrange the wiring of money, her entire life savings.
Back on the road, Louise tells Thelma that she’s going to Mexico, and asks Thelma if she’s up to this (TEST). Thelma says she doesn’t know.
At another stop, Louise asks Jimmy where he wired the money. She then tells Thelma to call her husband Daryl and let him know that she’ll be home Sunday, so he’ll shut up and stop raising everyone’s suspicions. When Thelma calls her husband, he yells at her and demands she come home. Thelma is over it. She tells Daryl go fuck himself and hangs up.
On her way back to Louise she bumps into a cowboy asking for a ride. This is also the moment Brad Pitt entered the collective consciousness. (ALLY or ENEMY?) We’ll see. Thelma asks Louise if they can give the cowboy a ride. Louise pulls her stick of red licorice out of her mouth, and, in the understatement of the year, says “It’s probably not a good idea.”
Back on the road, Thelma says to Louise, “how long before we’re in goddamn Mexico.” (TEST passed.)
Hal looks up names registered to ’66 model Thunderbirds. (ENEMY on the trail.)
Louise asks Thelma to find back roads from Oklahoma City to Mexico. Thelma suggests they take road 81 to Dallas. Louise says not through Texas. Thelma’s like “The only thing between Oklahoma and Mexico is Texas.” Louise is like “We don’t want to get caught in Texas, trust me, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
Hal breaks into Louisa’s apartment, goes to her workplace, and then to Daryl. (ENEMY getting closer.)
Thelma and Louise run into the hitchhiking cowboy. This time, Thelma persuades Louise to give him a ride. Thelma is TESTING the boundaries of her new found freedom from her asshole husband. She wants to have a little fun with this cute young man.
When the three of them get to the motel where Jimmy (ALLY) is supposed to wire the money, they find Jimmy himself. He gets himself a room, tells the cowboy he needs to hit the road. Louise gives Thelma the money to keep safe in their room, and then goes to talk to Jimmy. Jimmy asks her what kind of trouble she’s in. To protect him, Louise refuses to tell him. Then, the commitment-phobic Jimmy presents her with a ring (TEST). Louise says she doesn’t want it, not like this. (TEST passed.)
Back at Thelma and Louise’s room, that rascally cowboy has not hit the road, but has come to the door, looking for action (TEMPTRESS. Yes, he’s a guy, but that’s the role he’s playing). Of course Thelma lets him in. The cowboy reveals that he is on parole, then demonstrates to her how he commits robberies. Thelma, enraptured, pays close attention. Thelma and the cowboy have sex– it’s fun, it’s sexy, and the best time Thelma has had in bed.
The following morning, Louise and Jimmy have breakfast together and then Louise tells Jimmy goodbye. He says he’ll see her down the road. Louise is sad because she knows that she will never see him again. (TEST).
Thelma shows up, happy as can be, because, as Louise so aptly puts it, she finally got laid properly. This moment of giddy bonding ends when Louise realizes that Thelma has left the cowboy alone in the room with the money. They rush to the room and their worst fears are confirmed: the cowboy is gone and so is all of their money. (ENEMY.)
Approach to the Innermost Cave (Approaching the Dark Moment)
Louise loses it. They are really screwed now. How are they going to keep going without any money? How are they going to buy gas?
In a reversal of roles, it is Thelma’s turn to pull it together and comfort Louise, tell her everything is going to be OK. “Let’s get out of here.”
Thelma takes care of everything, all right. Taking lessons from what the cowboy taught her, (questionable ALLY and MENTOR), Thelma robs a minimart.
It is caught on tape. Hal, Daryl, the whole investigative contingent sees it on the surveillance tape. Thelma and Louise are now 100% committed to the life of criminal fugitives fleeing the law. They are answering the call of the wild. Cruising down the highway in a ‘66 Thunderbird, convertible top down. Passing truckers, one of whom, in classic macho fashion, makes obscene gestures at them.
The detective is waiting for Jimmy when he returns home. The police catch the cowboy. During the questioning of the cowboy, Hal is sympathetic to Thelma and Louise’s plight. “Do you think Thelma Dickinson would have committed armed robbery if you hadn’t taken all of their money?” He then proceeds to whip the cowboy upside his pretty head with his own cowboy hat. (Which I got a huge kick out of watching. He stole a waitress’s life savings. He deserved worse.) Hal wants to help Thelma and Louise the best way he knows how. (ENEMY is potentially an ALLY.)
Louise has Thelma call home to try and figure out how much the police know. Because of the uncharacteristically nice way Daryl addresses Thelma, she knows that he knows. Louise realizes the police are there and asks to talk to the detective. Hal tries to get her to turn themselves in for questioning, tells her they won’t make it to Mexico. Louise hangs up, furious that Thelma told the cowboy where they were going. “You’ve got to stop being so open. We’re fugitives now. Let’s start behaving like that.”
Thelma and Louise really start to enjoy their new adventure, being on the road, traveling through the beautiful Southwest. They pull off the road to watch the sunrise.
In the morning they pass the tongue-waggling truck driver again. “Ignore him.”
In a moment of the two women getting honest with each other, Thelma starts giggling hysterically over the shooting of the rapist. When Louise says it isn’t funny, Thelma says to Louise, “It happened to you, didn’t it? In Texas.” Louise says, “I’m not going to talk about that. You understand?” Thelma understands.
The Ordeal (Dark Moment)
A highway patrol car flashes them to pull over. They are in real danger. When the cop gets out in gear, boots, glasses, the works, Louise says “Oh my God it’s a Nazi.” The highway patrol man informs them that they were going 110 mph. Before he can call it in, and find out they are wanted for armed robbery and murder, Thelma holds him up. Forces him into the trunk of his own patrol car.
Thelma and Louise flee the scene of their latest crime, but are forced to take a route that takes them further away from Mexico. Louise tells Thelma that she regrets getting her mixed up in all of this, that they could wind up killed. Thelma reminds Louise why they ran, nobody would believe their story about the rapist.
In one last ditch, desperate attempt to see if they can get out of this mess, Louise calls Hal. (ATONEMENT WITH THE FATHER.) Even though he understands Louise’s predicament, he tells her that if they don’t turn themselves in, he will have to charge them with murder. In one last attempt to get her to do what he thinks is best, he says, “I know what’s making you run. I know what happened to you in Texas.”
Louise is stunned, frozen. Thelma cuts the phone connection. The police have traced the call.
“You’re not giving up on me are you?” Thelma says to Louise. “Because something’s crossed over in me. I can’t go back.”
Their fate is looking desperate.
They hit the road again, committed to their decision. Thelma says, “I feel awake. Wide awake. I don’t remember ever feeling this awake.”
They run in to their sexist truck driver for the third time. This time, though, instead of ignoring him, they toy with him, playing on his assumption of entitlement, and in a moment of glorious catharsis, blow up his 18 wheeler.
The Road Back
This is the fatal blow. On the heels of the explosion is a posse of cop cars and helicopters hot on their trail. The law is closing in.
After a nerve-wracking, exhilarating dash through dusty roads and crashing of cop cars, Thelma and Louise elude the law for a minute. But they know it’s almost over. They start exchanging final words. “You’re a good friend.” “You too, sweetie, the best. How you like the vacation so far?” They laugh in the face of fear, of imminent doom. They keep driving.
Screech to a halt right before the edge of the Grand Canyon. A line of cop cars stop behind them. Helicopters swirl overhead. Hal tries to reason with the man in charge of the troops, to make sure they don’t shoot the women.
They are at the end of the road. Thelma says, “Let’s not get caught. Let’s keep going.” Louise kisses her in gratitude, in love for her best friend, and slams her foot on the gas pedal. The car roars towards the cliff.
Return With the Elixir (Freedom to Live)
The detective chases after them, waving frantically at them to stop, to not do this. Thelma and Louise clasp hands over the gear shift. With expressions of joy on their faces, they fly over the cliff of the Grand Canyon, and escape the bonds of this life.