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Thelma & Louise

Thelma & Louise

In the two decades since its release, Thelma & Louise has been oft-imitated, never equalled. It's a sad indictment of the way Hollywood works that we have to reach back twenty years to find a successful female buddy movie, where the aim of the protagonists is NOT to find romance, and they get to chart their own destiny right up until their final exit.

Studying Thelma & Louise

A good starting point, as with any film, is the IMDb entry( Thelma & Louise) and the review round-up at Rotten Tomatoes where it gets a 92% fresh rating.

As always when studying a movie in depth, it's best to watch it all the way through once, without interruption, to feel the full effect of the film-makers' intentions.

Then it's back to the beginning for some more in-depth analysis. Here are a few questions to start you off.

The Opening Sequence

  • How does this set up audience expectations?
  • Does this sequence conform to any notions of genre?
  • What standards of cinematography are set by this opening sequence?
  • What effect does the music have?
  • What impression does the style of credits have (font, speed of presentation etc)?
  • How do we relate the initial image of the mountain to what immediately follows?

Introduction of the Two Lead Characters

  • How are Thelma and Louise compared and contrasted in this sequence?
  • How important is lighting?
  • What character traits are the audience given for instant and easy identification of the characters?
  • What do the minor characters add to our understanding of our heroines?
  • Why do we assume Thelma and Louise are going to be the main focus of the film?
  • What importance would you attach to the star personae of Sarandon and Davis?

The Rape Scene

  • How are Thelma and Louise compared and contrasted in this sequence?
  • How important is lighting?
  • How important is the pacing of the shots?
  • How important is the framing of the shots?
  • Rape is a delicate subject for a film - especially as this movie came hot on the heels of the controversy surrounding The Accused (1988) - is it dealt with sensitively here, and do you think the camera has a male or female gaze?
  • How are the audience positioned? Is thre any form of judgement expected from them?

The Closing Sequence

  • How has the scope of the imagery changed between the beginning and end of the film? (we have gone from a domestic/urban setting to...?)
  • What transitions do we note in the representation of the main characters?
  • What conventions of genre are used in this final sequence?
  • How are the shots framed?
  • How strong is the fantasy element?
  • What is the impact of the final shot? Why do we not see them plummet to the ground?
  • What closure/resolution is offered to the audience?
  • What is the effect of music?
  • Why is slow-motion camera used?
  • How does the cinematography convey a sense of climax and conflict?

Characterisation and use of Stars

Thelma and Louise revolves around the central characters. Sarandon and Davis are generally praised for the strength of their performances, but what qualities do they bring to the roles? Apply the commutation test - would different actors have created a drastically different Thelma and Louise? Michael Madsen and Harvey Keitel also appeared together in Reservoir Dogs (1992), in roles which were perhaps more in keeping with their developing star personae. Do you think they would have taken the parts in Thelma & Louise after the success of Reservoir Dogs?

Representation and Audience Response

Thelma and Louise

Do Thelma and Louise mean different things to different audiences? Male and female audiences are often perceived to read the film, and the main characters, very differently. Are Thelma & Louise gutsy heroines who triumph over the boorish, stupid men surrounding them, or are they criminals pitted only against cartoon males? If we think of characters as receptacles for audience's emotions, what do Thelma & Louise receive and what do they reflect back. Is their characterisation sexist in any way?

In class we looked at the comparisons between Thelma & Louise and conventional buddy movies, especially Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. Are Thelma and Louise original characters, or simply 'remakes'? Does their characterisation bring anything new to the genre of the buddy movie, or does it simply replace the male stereotype with a female who conforms to the stereotype in everything but her biological gender?


Ridley Scott has amassed an impressive body of work as a film-maker, as both director and producer. He began by directing TV adverts, and has since been responsible for a wide variety of films, from the futuristic science fiction of Alien and Blade Runner to the sweeping historical epic Gladiator, to gritty urban drama in American Gangster. He is clearly a director to whom spectacle is very important - what do you think his aims are when creating a movie?

Commercial Considerations

Thelma & Louise is a studio production. Ensure you are clear on the differences between a studio and an independent production:

Themes and Issues

Can you write about the following themes and how the Thelma & Louise screenplay explores them?

  • Escape/Freedom
  • Feminism
  • Fantasy
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Repression/Empowerment
  • Gender
  • Genre Expectations
  • Transformation

At the end of the day, whether you personally feel Thelma & Louise is a good movie or not, it has important cultural significance, transcends genre boundaries, and over time has become an ideal of female empowerment on screen.