From the early beginnings of folklore through Little Red Riding Hood, the tale of a young girl who ventures out into the forbidden woods alone, to the cinematic American road story of two female outlaw heroines in Ridley Scotts Thelma and Louise, art and literature have presented various ideas involving women as they venture into an unknown or forbidden space.
In Scott’s film, Thelma and Louise explore a world outside of their original suppressed lives where they become killers, robbers, and thrill seeking fugitives who ultimately stand up for the rights of women. In the movie the protagonists are attempting to reach an unknown space, which is Mexico, a space that promises both women a new chance at their once caged in lives and a true chance to escape arrest.
Ultimately, Mexico represents an unfamiliar space of hope, ambition, and safety for both characters who want to flee their pessimistic society. In the film Thelma and Louise represent two girls who have been wronged by their society. Thelma lives as a vulnerable and submissive housewife to her extremely dominating husband, while Louise appears as an overworked waitress who dwells in a life of loneliness while being scarred from her dark past in Texas. Eventually the protagonists both venture off into unfamiliar territory in a journey to not only escape the consequences of their criminal actions but to also escape their lives as they once were. Throughout the film Mexico symbolizes a space of hope and trust for the characters to escape their negative lifestyles. For example, towards the end of the film in one particular scene, Thelma and Louise show how much faith they have in reaching Mexico. In the scene Louise travels down a dirt road as Thelma daydreams about their future life in Mexico.
In the scene the characters say, “Thelma: You feel like that too? Like you have something to look forward too? Louise: Well be drinking margaritas by the sea mamacita. Thelma: You know we could change our names. Louise: To live in a hacienda. Thelma: I want to get a job, I’ll work at Club Med. Louise: Yeah, what kind of deal is that cop going to have to come up with too top that?” (Scotts).
This dialogue between the two protagonists shows how they rely on their unknown space in Mexico as away to escape their controversial lives. Furthermore, the fact that Thelma and Louise set aside goals and objectives for Mexico shows that their arrival to this territory is the start of a new life, which is ultimately what they want. As stated earlier, Thelma and Louise venture into a world outside of their own lives when they initiate their two day trip. Almost immediately the viewer can connect this film to the folktale of Little Red Riding Hood.
For example, just as the Little Red Riding Hood was forbidden to go through the woods on her path to her grandmother’s house, Thelma is not allowed by her controlling husband to go out on any vacation at all. However, despite their instructions both characters go against them which ultimately leads them into a battle against all odds along their different journeys. In the film Thelma and Louise endure various negativities by society, from rape, to verbal abuse and control, and to even sexual assault and theft.
All of these pessimistic encounters amongst their environment cause both women to become corrupt members of society. Furthermore, their treatment from mankind motivates them to become outlaws and criminals. For example, Harlan Puckett the guy who attempts to rape Thelma at the Silver Bullet Bar motivates Louise to be a murderer through his sexually violent actions and insulting language. In the film the dialogue between Louise and Harlan show how she was pushed to her limit before killing him, “Harlan: Bitch! I shoulda gone ahead and fucked her! Louise: What did you say? Harlan: I said suck my cock” (Scotts).
Also, J.D., the charming cowboy who becomes Thelma’s companion motivates her to become an armed robber because he steals their money. You can even blame the foul mouth truck driver for having his truck blown into pieces by the two infamous suspects. Moreover, Thelma and Louise go from victims of a pessimistic society to unlawful conquerors that ultimately stand up for their own self respect and the respect of women as a whole.
Although, many of the protagonist’s criminal acts are due to the mistreatment and exploitation of women in a male dominant society, could the main character’s ambitions for this new space in Mexico also be the reason for their corrupt acts? Perhaps the two characters become so involved with the hopes of obtaining a new life that they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it.
For example, in the scene where Thelma robs the store, the true aspiration to reach Mexico is again implemented. In the film they say, “Louise: You robbed the store? You robbed the whole damn store? Thelma: Well we needed the money. Louise: Oh shoot! Thelma: It’s not like I killed anybody for God’s sake! Louise: Thelma! Thelma: I’m sorry, we needed the money, now we got it. Louise: Oh shoot! Oh shoot, Thelma! Thelma: Louise, get us to damn Mexico. Louise: Alright, oh shoot! Oh shoot! Oh shoot!” (Scotts).
This quotation shows how the characters become so concerned with reaching Mexico because they opt to rob a store, which further risks their chance of being arrested. Furthermore, Thelma and Louise become so caught up in their ambitions of starting a new lifestyle that they sometimes forget to face the reality of their situation, they also fail to consider that they may get caught before they reach Mexico.
Although, arriving at this forbidden space comes with its consequences such as the scolding from Thelma’s husband, or the character’s new titles as killers and robbers, or even the consequence of becoming the south’s most wanted criminals, Thelma and Louise are willing to put their old lives in danger in order to obtain this unknown territory.
Throughout the movie the characters transgression sends them into a world of trouble in which they not only struggle to reach the serenity of Mexico but they also face the challenge of escaping the negativities of their past environment. While viewing the film the observer may ask what are Thelma and Louise truly running from? Is it just the wrath of the law enforcement? Or is there something more? Perhaps Thelma is truly running from the verbal and controlling abuse, and insecurities she once faced while with her husband. Maybe Louise wants to escape her lonely life as a single woman and the miserable job of being café waitress.
Overall, I believe that the protagonists truly want to flee from their less than pleasing lives, and gain the many things that they’ve always wanted. In the film they see Mexico as a possible opportunity to break away from all of their past worries, which makes them become more enthused to reach their unknown space. By traveling into unfamiliar territory both women earn something that they were missing in their lives. They both experience thrill and adventure, Thelma enjoys being promiscuous and vibrant with J.D. and Louise finally rekindles some feelings with her old lover Jimmy. They also gain courage and independence because they constantly fight and stand up for themselves while demanding respect from the different males that they encounter. Furthermore, the protagonist’s endeavor gives them an opportunity to live without being suppressed by a male dominant society.
Throughout the cinematic piece both Thelma and Louise unknown space is presented as Mexico. However, what is their true forbidden space? Is it truly Mexico or is it the environment that they have always lived in, Oklahoma? Ultimately, I believe the characters space in Oklahoma is their true forbidden space because they did not belong there. Moreover, I feel that they have always belonged in Mexico, a place where they could be themselves without being criticized or victimized by a patriarchal society. Ultimately, Thelma and Louise discover that they must find a way to escape from the pessimistic community of Oklahoma and obtain a sense of freedom whether if its in the serene land of Mexico or through their afterlife as they reach their untimely death at the conclusion of the film.
Ridley Scott “Thelma & Louise” Susan Surrandon, Gena Davis, Brad Pitt.Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer, 1991.