FQ Round Table:
The Many Faces of Thelma & Louise
Vol. 45, no. 2 (Winter 1991–92): 20–31.
Some of the spirit of Ridley Scott's 1991 breakaway hit has entered the realm of public discourse: the New York Times spoke of ". . . the press . . . beginning to hear from fellow Republicans that Bush's top aides are squandering precious political capital as if on a 'Thelma-and-Louise'-style spree." (Nov. 22, 1991, p. A11.) In light of the sometimes vehemently differing reactions to this film, FQ invited a number of its contributors to offer their impressions—not as reviews but as brief illuminations of a facet each found particularly interesting. These are their responses.
[Ed. note ]
Thelma & Louise's Exuberant Polysemy
Harvey R. Greenberg
Like Robert Altman and Blake Edwards, Ridley Scott often works with popular genre toward revisionist ends. His first commercial effort (The Duellists , 1977) deployed the swashbuckler's derring-do to advance an ironic pacifism. He went on to critique the greed of contemporary corporate practice, first with a canny blending of horror and science-fiction strategies (Alien , 1979), then by marrying science-fiction conventions to the tropes of noir (Blade Runner , 1982).
The director's latest project, Thelma & Louise , arguably wins the prize for sheer number of genres interrogated against the grain in a single Scott picture. I mark the signature of classic and contemporary Westerns, sundry types of road film (doomed/outlaw/lovers subgenre in particular), and the seventies "buddy" movie.
Thelma & Louise 's ideological agenda has caused exceptionally polarized debate. The film has been variously interpreted as feminist manifesto (the heroines are ordinary women, driven to extraordinary ends by male oppression) and as profoundly antifeminist (the heroines are dangerous phallic caricatures of the very macho violence they're supposedly protesting). Some critics have discerned a lesbian subtext (that final soul kiss at the abyss); others interpret this reading
as a demeaning negation of feminine friendship that flies in the face of patriarchal authority.
These vehemently opposed critiques own, as it were, a piece of the ideological action. One is reminded of the blind men in the folk tale, each of whom affirmed that his description of the elephant—based on the part he grasped—was the only true account of the beast. By the very historical grounds of their creation, big, popular entertainments like Thelma & Louise often contain both reactionary and progressive elements, more or less ajar.
A director of liberal inclinations like Scott still functions within an industry and culture profoundly saturated with the premises of corporate capitalism. The latter may intrude upon a project directly, or through subtler invasions of the creator's psyche. The result is a highly polysemic text: such a film typically offers a wide range of possibility for contestation across the political spectrum over issues "whose time has come" out of one contemporary circumstance or another (e.g., Easy Rider , 1969; The Deer Hunter , 1978).
Thelma & Louise 's ideological polysemy is abetted by the director's characteristic dense cinematic and artistic intertextuality (central quotations on the latter score include Ansel Adams and the nineteen-eighties Hyperrealists). Callie Khouri's script also enhances the film's ambiguous openness for interpretation by sharply scanting information about the protagonists' prior lives, except for a few bold strokes. What one gets of the women is essentially what one sees.
Scott is a formidable entertainer, but he lacks Edwards' or Altman's subversive boldness (at their best). His critiques are increasingly vitiated by tidy "with the grain" resolutions (in this sense, Thelma & Louise 's unhappy ending is as problematic as Blade Runner 's infamous happy ending). It may nev-
ertheless be argued that we should feel lucky for Thelma & Louise 's raucous probe of the Second Sex's still dismal status in Bush-y America, given Hollywood's current gentler, kinder predilection for the bimbos (and bitches) of Working Girl and Pretty Woman .
But one must wonder if—Gramsci, thou art with us yet—we're supposed to feel lucky, and let it go at that. . . .
Carol J. Clover
To focus, as the debate about Thelma & Louise did, on those men who disliked it is to miss what I think is the far more significant fact that large numbers of men both saw and did like it. Precious few American films have had women at the center and men on the periphery, and what ones there are have not, for the most part, drawn large male audiences—a pattern that has sustained the claim that whereas women are willing to "identify" with screen males, the converse is not the case. What the success of Thelma & Louise with male audiences suggests is that if you write the parts right and execute them with conviction, the sex of the players is no object: if the buddy-escape plot is conventionally male, it is not intrinsically so, and lots of men were evidently happy to enter into that very American fantasy even when it is enacted by women, even when the particulars are female-specific (rape, macho husband, leering co-worker), and even when the inflection is remarkably feminist. And although the film showed signs of defensiveness on this point (the niceness of the Harvey Keitel figure struck me as something of a sop to the men in the audience) it was on the whole surefooted in its assumption that its
viewers, regardless of sex, would engage with the women's story. When someone can say, as Geena Davis did in an interview, that "If you're threatened by this movie, you're identifying with the wrong person," a real corner in gender representation has been turned in mainstream film history. I emphasize "mainstream" here, for the same corner was turned in so-called exploitation cinema some 15 years ago. Fans of horror recognize the "tough-girl heroes" of films like Thelma & Louise, Silence of the Lambs, Sleeping with the Enemy , and Mortal Thoughts as upscale immigrants from slasher and rape-revenge movies of the eighties—forms that reveal in no uncertain terms the willingness, not to say desire, of the male viewer to feel not just at but through female figures on screen. Perhaps the mainstreaming of that operation, in films like Thelma & Louise , will call it to the attention of theory, which has not done full justice to "wrong-direction" cross-gender imaginings.
Bacchantes at Large
Not only is Thelma & Louise an entertaining and picaresque tragicomedy, but it is also a vivid portrait of contemporary Americana, where women are still struggling to redefine their individualities: it is a symbolic perusal of feminine inconsistencies. Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) and Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) are aspects of female escapism, an urgent undercurrent in American society that seems to cultivate a mostly unfulfilled yearning for women to run away from the boredom and sexual entrapment to which they are condemned.
Here is a film that reveals a sad decline in American culture, with its facile acceptances of empty pleasures and demoralized sexual chauvinism toward women. Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider and Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Black-top displayed the male attraction for a wayward, motorized sort of outlaw wandering across America, with freedom of highways correlated to a promise of adventure and, most of all, hedonistic fun. The heroines of Thelma &
Louise offer the same thing, but with the pathetic fallacy of American open spaces mainly representing precursors of doom beyond desire.
Callie Khouri's screenplay manages to offer detailed, believable characters in Thelma and Louise themselves and in the various men who surround them during their escapades. Sarandon had already captured the essence of hard-edged self-assurance as the tart-tongued waitress in White Palace , and her portrayal of Louise rounds out and explores feminine defiances. Davis's vulnerable Thelma (reminding one of a younger version of Shirley Booth's Lola in Inge's Come Back Little Sheba ) is a perfect complement to Louise's personality. The director (Ridley Scott at his most visual) deftly contrasts Louise's neat kitchen with Thelma's fridgefull of half-eaten Snickers bars, as well as their variant styles of packing suitcases. It is Thelma's jubilant rush toward freedom from her husband, Darryl (Christopher McDonald), a perfect example of the Playboy Philosopher, that sets the tone of recklessness as the women set forth. Thelma's near-rape by redneck Harlan (Timothy Carhart) at the Silver Bullet, a roadside country-western bar that is more-Texan-than-Texas, is the catalyst for sudden violence and death; this changes their original exuberance to anxieties which gradually strengthen bonds of love and loyalty between them as they continue their flight from the law.
Louise's version of the world around them is totally realistic, and her continued exasperations with Thelma's naiveté become bitter commentaries on the failure of her own hope and a particular world-weariness regarding any future happiness for either of them.
When Louise's boyfriend, Jimmy (Michael Madsen), finds them and offers her marriage she is too resigned by disillusioned romances to accept him, and Thelma finds the James Dean–Bruce Weber image of J.D. (Brad Pitt), a handsome drifter, too irresistible a sex symbol to dismiss, causing further disruption of Louise's plan for an escape to Mexico. The director and his cinematographer (Adrian Biddle) wrap beautiful visions around the errant women racing along in their dusty convertible, singing out their calls-of-the-wild.
Much attention is given to landscape; the imitation Hollywood motels off the highways; a conglomerate of oil wells in dusty twilights; and faces of aged, displaced people, seen briefly in doorways and windows, remnants of lost dreams (particularly for Louise, who notices them). The eternal desert monoliths add to the isolated status of the women's flight toward the border.
Thelma and Louise's ultimate gestures of feminine liberation are exemplified by their total humiliation of a lewd truck driver and the subsequent subjugation of an arrogant young state trooper (Jason Beghe), who is reduced to tears by their domination. These are episodes of high humor, leaving one unprepared for the denouement. The essential humanity of Thelma and Louise , for all their luckless travails, wins one's sympathies, and although a happy ending is desired, their leap into the void is a final stamp upon one's conscience: they are only two beautiful, easygoing women who recognize that they can no longer tolerate a deepshit status in a man-made American universe.
Thelma & Louise as Screwball Comedy
Peter N. Chumo II
The elements are familiar: the killing, the robbery, the flight from the police, the high-speed car chase. It is little wonder that many critics see Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise as an outlaw film. However, it also displays key elements of a screwball comedy, of which the "road screwball" is an important subgenre (best exemplified by It Happened One Night , 1934) whose themes include
escaping the constraints of authority for the freedom of the open road, playing out different roles, and ultimately shedding one's old identity for a new one.
While outlaw films like Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid have scenes of deadpan humor, these moments generally do not suggest the self-awareness or growth typical of the smart, witty screwball heroine. In Thelma & Louise , however, when J.D. suggests that Thelma's husband is an "asshole," and Thelma agrees, "He is an asshole. Most of the time I just let it slide," we see a classic screwball heroine assuming a certain control over her life while also maintaining a sense of irony toward her childish husband.
Liberation and growth through role-playing—distinctive features of the screwball tradition—figure prominently in Thelma & Louise , especially in Thelma's robbery of the market, her personal turning point when she casts aside all inhibitions, takes on the persona of an outlaw, and gains a new sense of freedom. She uses the theatrical "robbery speech" that J.D. has taught her, but does not become a copy of a male outlaw. Rather, she makes the role her own and adjusts the robbery to suit her own tastes when she asks for a couple of bottles of Wild Turkey, which has become her favorite drink on the road. Thelma, then, sheds her identity as a timid, even childlike housewife by relying on her own instincts and creativity within the outlaw role. Although Thelma's crime initially shocks Louise, she soon gets caught up in the fun, and their laughter and sense of exhilaration as they drive away from "the scene of our last goddamn crime!" (as Louise enthusiastically puts it) solidifies them as a screwball couple having fun with their outlaw personae, goofing off on the road, and taking control of their lives in the process.
In the encounter with the state trooper, a wisecrack defuses a potentially violent moment as Thelma, holding a gun on the officer as he explains that he has a wife and kids, advises him, "You be sweet to 'em, especially your wife. My husband wasn't sweet to me. Look how I turned out"—the smart, sassy lines of a screwball heroine who has a sense of humor about her situation. Instead of a disturbing confrontation, we have a prank (they lock the officer in his trunk) and sharp, funny dialogue, more akin to the fun of a screwball couple defying authority (perhaps Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby ) than outlaws at odds with society in general.
While Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis have entered the pantheon of great screwball couples, their sense of freedom poses a generic problem, since the screwball couple normally achieve a clarity of vision that enables them to be reintegrated into society. As a female screwball couple who have no desire to return to their old lives and are actually being hunted by male society, Thelma and Louise cannot follow this pattern, but the film itself finds a way of going beyond the usual screwball marriage. Finally surrounded by police and choosing to drive over the edge of the Grand Canyon rather than be captured, Thelma and Louise first kiss and then clasp hands in a mystical marriage that distinguishes the film as the most unique screwball ever made—not simply because it presents a marriage of females but because it is a transcendent, not a social, marriage and ultimately an apotheosis, a mythic flight into forever.
Thelma & Louise has no voice-over narration, makes no use of the frequentive, and has no flashbacks or flash-forwards. Like many, perhaps most, films, it tells its story in chronological order, in what might be described as an unfolding present. What is unlike other films, however, are the ways in which Thelma & Louise organizes narrative time and the distinc-
tive temporalities, fundamental to all the effects and meanings of the film, that result.
The killing of Harlan turns the lives of Thelma and Louise upside down: suddenly their relation to the past is uncertain; their future unknown. They flee to the open road, "not so much bound to any haven ahead as rushing from all havens astern" (Melville). The film itself fissures at this point, launching a parallel montage between investigating police and escaping women that is sustained until the film's-end face-off at the Grand Canyon.
The time dimensions of the title characters' flight are surprisingly indeterminate—not only the hour and the day of any given scene but also how much time is supposed to have elapsed between any two successive scenes and how long it has been since their journey began. The few clues provided are retrospective. Thelma says well after the fact that it was 4:00am when she first tried to reach Darryl by telephone—where was he? Later she tells the state trooper they hold at gunpoint that she and Louise would never have pulled a stunt like this three days ago—they seem to have been gone much longer than that. The alternation of filmic night and day usually time-orients viewers but this too is undermined, and time stretched out, by the women's driving around the clock;
the Oklahoma City episode—Louise in one room with Jimmy; Thelma in another with J.D.—is their single off-road night.
Fiction-film police work is often shown in a pseudo-documentary manner, sometimes even with the date and hour stamped on the beginning of scenes. However, the police scenes in Thelma & Louise are as temporally indeterminate as the women's scenes—we do not know when they take place or how much time elapses between them. How can the film sustain a floating time scheme in each of its two narrative strands? Because the two strands prop each other up: the considerable ellipses within each strand intersperse with those of the other, filling in its gaps and thereby covering for it. Thus the film-makers can break away from Thelma and Louise to the police at any time they wish and come back to them at any later point in their journey they choose. This is a worry-free formal scheme that allows the film-makers to skip what they want to skip and to show what they want to show. A single-stranded Thelma & Louise would have had to account for its ellipses, perhaps by dialogue, by time-passing montages, by dissolves, and/or by other devices: a different film.
What is the point of this scheme? It serves to immerse us radically in Thelma and Louise's divided temporality. The characters exist simultaneously in two temporal modes—a continual motion forward and a continual reflection backwards. "Go!" "Go, Go!" and "Go, Go, Go!" are words we hear frequently in the film, even, when Thelma jumps in the car after robbing a convenience store, "Go! Go! Go, Go, Go!" Each of the women has a paralyzing crisis in the course of the film: Thelma after the killing lies inert on a motel bed, then sits in a daze by the pool; Louise after the theft of the money sits on the floor of another motel room in a stupor. The solution in both cases, effected by the other character, is to get the stalled one back in the car and on the road. It is the road itself, regardless of destination, which is curative.
In the other temporal mode, awareness lags behind events but comes more forcefully for that reason. (Knowledge that follows action is common in Western literature, especially in tragedy.) Louise shoots Harlan, then, addressing his sitting-up corpse, cautions him to change his behavior: "You watch your mouth." By this point, of course, he cannot speak or hear her words—Louise is temporarily denying the knowledge that will change her life. Thelma seems quicker on the uptake; when Darryl offers neither support nor trust, she understands her fate instantly. "When do we get to Mexico?" she says to Louise, in effect signing on for the long drive. Thelma's most profound realizations come later, however, reflecting her character's astonishing growth. Near the end she understands that Louise was raped in Texas some time ago and that this event still shapes her life. Thinking of the rape that she herself barely escaped, thanks to Louise, Thelma ratifies ex post facto the killing of Harlan, wishing only that she had done it herself. She then says, in the film's crowning realization, "My life would have been ruined much worse than it is now."
What Makes a Woman Wander
Thelma and Louise have been much criticized for behaving, in the time-honored tradition of most American heroes, violently and without reflection. Male critics have been especially critical of this violence, claiming that to put women in the male outlaw mold of Butch and Sundance is nihilistic, "toxic feminism" with a fascist theme. Obviously there is something unsettling to male viewers about women with guns. Obviously there is something exhilarating about this same vision to women viewers. But the gender gap that has widened in discussions of this film has, I think, missed the crucial cultural reference. If Thelma & Louise offers a gender-bending revision of a basic American myth it is not simply that of the going-out-in-a-blaze-of-glory of Butch and Sundance but something closer to a complex revision of that most resonant of revenge Westerns, John Ford's The Searchers .
The Searchers is a revenge saga in which Ethan Edwards, hooked up with a younger male sidekick, obsessively hunts and kills the Indians who raped and killed his brother's wife, Martha, and abducted his niece. Thelma & Louise re-imagines the revenge narrative from the point of view of the women who were once its victims. (The exhilaration for women viewers is in the difference.) In both films melancholy, mature heroes (Louise and Ethan) have mysterious, guilty pasts about which they do not speak. Ethan, haunted by an unlawful desire for his brother's wife, shares a measure of guilt with the savages who have raped and abducted her. Though victim of the Indians' violence, Ethan shares in it as well.
Louise too has a clouded past. Something happened to her in Texas and it seems to have been rape. When she sees this crime repeated upon her young friend she, like Ethan, turns mad and vengeful, becoming angry at men the way
Ethan is angry at Indians. But the revenge of the women victims is different. It is as if Martha and Debbie in The Searchers set out to revenge themselves.
Revenge stories grip us because of their mythic excess. Watching The Searchers , we become aware, as Ethan and Martin wander over the Southwestern landscape, of the depth of the revenge-seeking hero's alienation from the "sivilization" once equated with things feminine. And watching Thelma & Louise , we thrill to another form of alienation—from things masculine. Lighting out for the Territory, or leaping into the void, are no more nihilistic, or toxic, when women do it than men. But they are different. For women to close themselves off to the comforts of home, the alienation and anger must run deep. And the exhilaration of the release from this "sivilization" amounts to something like pure joy. The sheer surprise of Thelma & Louise is to have shown, in a way that serious films about the issue of rape (cf., The Accused ) could never show, how victims of sexual crimes are unaccountably placed in the position of the guilty ones, positioned as fair game for further attack. The thrill of watching this film is the thrill of seeing our deepest and most contradictory myths reworked with female victim-heroes at their center.
Satire into Myth
Part of Thelma & Louise 's heritage as a belated Western is to begin with a lament for lost space that the main characters only gradually realize has been lost. So much of the early part of the film is set in familiar post-Hopper (Edward or Dennis) interiors: roadside cafés, motels, and crowded apartments; Western space, with all its potential for self-enhancement and beginning again, fallen into the sordidness of small-town limitation. The bar where the adventure starts
looms like an emblem of fallen romanticism hardly up to the already postheroic Urban Cowboy . In the cowboy bootheel slamming of the communal dancing, like some chorus-line crossover of Michael Kidd and Albert Speer, men and women alike wear all the paraphernalia of fantasy western individualism.
In this atmosphere of the ersatz and the fallen, the attempted rape of Thelma in the parking lot and Louise's killing of the rapist cuts through like an icy blast, announcing the violence and brutality under the celluloid-thin myths of self-sufficiency and heroism.
As they escape, when the film truly hits the road, the promise of space and freedom lures them on. But the camera still continues to stress the choking inevitability of the world they are trying to escape, not just the massive machinery, oil drilling equipment, and trucks that constantly threaten to squeeze them out of our vision, but even the seemingly more benevolent spaces and spires of John Ford's Monument Valley.
It's easy enough in many Ford films to point out how narratives that are supposed to cover hundreds of miles all seem to take place within the confines
of Monument Valley. But when similar things happen in Thelma & Louise , the effect is not the creation of a special world, but a sense of being walled in by expectations and walled in by fate, like the grainy television screen catching Thelma's robbery of the convenience store, making her "famous."
Like so many film noir couples, Thelma and Louise finally head for Mexico, the old place of nature and freedom, where you go when the West closes down. Louise's refusal to go to Texas may supply a psychological validity to her killing—the possibility that she herself was raped in Texas. But on the level of the Western and the road film, the refusal of Texas is a refusal of those wide open genre spaces as a solution.
Ridley Scott seems drawn in many of his films to the self-enclosed male character, like Harrison Ford in Blade Runner or Harvey Keitel in The Duellists , whose fragile identity rests on a suffocating pride. The gloomy setting of the films enwraps and restricts him even as he struggles to be free. But in Thelma & Louise , with its female duo of friends, there is a more intense dialectic of enclosure and openness. The sense of fate is qualified by an almost exact existential luxuriance in knowing that fate and facing it.
But unlike Scott's tales of romantically posturing men, Thelma & Louise goes in more for wisecracks and the techniques of comic exaggeration than for self-important despair. Many of the more ridiculous attacks against the film took its assertions as somehow realistic arguments about women, men, guns, and violence. But however real Thelma & Louise may be, it's not realistic. Its violence erupts within a hard-edged satire of wannabe heroism and consumer identity, and it builds to its conclusion through a series of scenes that emphasize the way in which Scott and Callie Khouri's main characters move out of this heightened satiric reality into myth.
First appears the Rastafarian bicyclist in Monument Valley, who blows ganga into the trunk that holds the motorcycle cop. Then comes the broadly painted incident of the truck driver (with its echoes of Steven Spielberg and Richard Matheson's wonderful Duel ). And finally the concluding scene itself, as Harvey Keitel, here the sympathetic cop, watches helplessly as Thelma and Louise launch themselves into space and turn, not into magic heroines who manage to land on the other side, or angelic martyrs who crash into the canyon, but into a brightly colored magazine illustration. This last image echoes, as many have noted, Redford and Newman at the end of Butch Cassidy . But I think more of the freeze-framed Jean-Pierre Léaud at the end of 400Blows , faced with the threatening freedom of the sea. Not gun-toting heroes turning into legends, but hand-holding heroines of thwarted energy turning into a myth of blood, escaping the frame that confines them.
Thelma & Louise and Messidor as Feminist Road Movies
Thelma & Louise bears a striking resemblance to Messidor (1979), a film by Swiss filmmaker Alain Tanner, most of whose works address feminist concerns within a broad political context that also includes issues of class conflict, racism, and transnationalism. I don't know whether Callie Khouri or Ridley Scott have seen or
were influenced by Messidor , or whether it is merely included within the film's rich reservoir of intertextual relations, but a comparison of the two films highlights how deeply rooted Thelma & Louise is within its own cultural movement.
Like Thelma & Louise, Messidor is a road movie about a pair of women who abandon their traditional place in patriarchal culture, a transgression that at first seems trivial but soon turns them into gun-toting outlaws and that ultimately leads to death. While in Thelma & Louise the women are two close friends distinguished by age and marital status, in Messidor they are two single strangers of the same age (18 and 19) who meet on the road. In both films the "turning point" comes with an attempted rape, which the women avert and avenge with violence.
In Messidor , the primary target of the women's rebellion is respectable bourgeois institutions like the patriarchal family, not media culture as in Thelma & Louise . Scott's spunky heroines encounter a veritable postmodernist parade of treacherous male characters from well-known movies and popular male action genres—including the James Dean look-alike who, despite his useful lessons on sex and robbery, proves to be a rebel without a cause; the foulmouthed trucker without his convoy; and the well-meaning, sensitive cop whose bad timing contributes to their death.
In both films, the women's journey takes them away from the city and into the countryside, where they have a moment of communion with nature that makes them realize there is no going back, and where they move through a mythic landscape that both masks and delineates the nature of their final entrapment. In Messidor , the idyllic Swiss landscapes promise an illusory freedom—exaggerated in sweeping aerial shots. These overviews both contradict and disguise the rigid social repression imposed on all inhabitants below; they inspire flight yet provide no way out.
Thelma and Louise's chase is played out against the familiar landscapes from the Western genre—especially Monument Valley and the Badlands. But unlike Jeanne and Marie, who never have a clear destination and whose options and energy wind down, they don't wander aimlessly but rather choose the appropriate generic destination that is known to all those familiar with the Western genre: the Mexican border. One begins to suspect that they are purposely avoiding Texas not only because that was the site of Louise's secret trauma but also to motivate their ending up in the Grand Canyon. For, ultimately, their goal is to perform a sex change on Western mythology—to outdo those macho buddies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, by making their grand suicidal leap into that great vaginal wonder of the world.
Thelma & Louise begins where Messidor ends—in the same kind of small-town restaurant where Jeanne and Marie have their final, fatal showdown with the law. Instead of making a romantic leap into a new feminist mythology, these Swiss outlaws senselessly shoot a customer who they mistakenly think has called the police. They make no attempt to get away. They are never
empowered like Thelma and Louise, for they lack their exuberant energy and good humor; as hitchhikers, they have no glamorous shiny convertible and no final gesture of romantic defiance.
Messidor belongs with other European feminist road movies that explore the repression of women in the context of larger issues of history and class conflict and because of this political analysis their tone and conclusions are uncompromising and grim. Avoiding such analysis, Thelma & Louise reinscribes a male action genre with gutsy, hyperfeminine heroines who succeed in outshooting their macho antagonists, and thus the film is more like Cassavetes' Gloria (1980) and Ridley Scott's own Alien (1979).
In the nineteen-nineties, there is no longer the widespread belief that incisive political analysis can help one control the process of rapid restructuring that the world is undergoing. Instead there is a growing confidence in making endless revisions in the basic paradigm. And in the case of cinema and mass media the prevailing paradigms are Hollywood genres, for American pop culture is now our only remaining successful world export. Once these films, television programs, and genres were reconceptualized as software, they became more malleable and vulnerable to appropriation and ideological reinscription, not only by American independents but also by multinational corporations, spectators, and emigrés—including a British import like Ridley Scott. Perhaps that's why Thelma & Louise —with its glamorous images of gun-toting female buddies who stand up to rape and sexual harrassment—might ultimately prove to be more politically effective in the nineties than Messidor was in the seventies.