Dalila Ali Rajah
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Reflecting on Queer Cinema's Golden Age: The Gay '90s

Thelma & Louise (directed by Ridley Scott, 1991)

Thelma & Louise obviously loved each other. Whether they were in love with each other, at least by the end of the film, is up to the viewer. But as much as we crave representations of same-sex romance, strong female friendship is not to be dismissed — and it’s not depicted on-screen often enough. Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) were both involved with men; Thelma with a creepy husband played by Christopher McDonald and Louise with a longterm lover portrayed by Michael Madsen. The women go on a road trip that is interrupted by an encounter with a rapist in a honky-tonk; after (spoiler alert) Louise shoots him dead, they go on the run. Some commentators called the film “man-hating,” as many of the male characters are sexist jerks — even one played by the young and hunky Brad Pitt is not to be trusted. But really, not all the men were evil; there was Harvey Keitel as a sympathetic (if paternalistic) cop, and while Louise was disappointed in Madsen’s Jimmy, he wasn’t a bad guy overall. Maybe these critics just couldn’t stand seeing strong women who fight back — and who have an unbreakable bond. Callie Khouri won a well-deserved Oscar for her original screenplay, Ridley Scott handled the direction well, and the performances were superb all around — Davis and Sarandon both got Oscar nominations. Another joy of the film is the soundtrack, filled with classic rock, R&B, folk, and alternative country, from Glenn Frey’s original and most appropriate “Part of Me, Part of You,” to Marianne Faithfull’s beautiful rendition of “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.” And to those who thought the ending was a downer: “The ending was symbolic, not literal,” Khouri once said.

I first saw Thelma & Louise in the summer of 1991 with a group of friends from the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women, where I was a board member. A perfect group to see it with! It was at a shabby but cozy second-run theater — something far more common in those days. Then when it came on pay cable, I recorded it using the archaic technology of VHS tape and watched it many more times. And a friend made me a cassette (!) of the soundtrack, and I played it over and over too. The movie and the music inspire me with the power of the women’s bond and make me grateful for all the friends who have become part of me. —Trudy Ring


Tags: film, Media

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