My memories of Thelma & Louise are inextricably connected to my daughter. She was 13 when the movie came out, and quite taken with it. I assigned the movie to a class I was teaching at the time, along with Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening. I was struck by possible similarities in their endings, which led me to try and work through any other similarities by using it in the classroom. I fear I can't remember much more ... I know I'm supposed to keep track of these things, but it was more than 25 years ago and my brain ain't what it used to be.
One day, when we were going to discuss Thelma & Louise, I brought my daughter to class with me. She was and is sharp and opinionated, and she wasn't one to refrain from a discussion just because she was "only a kid". Now, one of the worst things that can happen to a teacher in a discussion class comes when the students don't interact with each other. The teacher says something, calls on a student if no one has anything to say, listens to the student, waits for a classmate to respond, and then breaks the silence by making another statement and calling on a different student. The pattern goes Teacher-Student A-Teacher-Student B-Teacher-Student C ... you get the idea. It would be closer to the ideal if it went Teacher-Student A-Student B-Student C.
Well, I said something to start the discussion and called on a student, who said something I don't remember. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a hand go up, and I think, great, someone else wants to chime in! I look over towards the hand to see my daughter, all fired up. What the heck, I figured, so I called on her. She looked at the first student and contested what she had said. Another hand went up. That student responded to my daughter, whose hand went up (I think eventually no one bothered with hands, although the discussion never got chaotic). My daughter responded, another student had something to say. I couldn't decide if this was a teacher's nightmare or something more ideal: Teacher-Student A-Daughter-Student B-Daughter-Student C-Daughter etc.
I was a proud dad, and the next class, my students all said how refreshing she was.
Well, a few months ago, my daughter, who is now 41 and lives in Sacramento (75-80 miles from Berkeley), tells me that Thelma & Louise is coming to Sac and she thinks we should go. I hemmed and hawed ... some time later she let me know she had bought tickets ... later still she asked her mom along. Long story short, last night, my wife and I drove up to Sacramento to watch an old movie with our daughter on a Monday night.
As someone who long ago grew comfortable with watching movies at home, I must say at the start that it was great watching the movie with a crowd. I suspect they had all seen it before ... you could feel the anticipation before a big moment. What was even better was the joy they were taking from the film. Jocular laughter as Thelma left on the trip, leaving her husband a frozen dinner in the microwave. Pin-drop silence as Harlan attacks Thelma. Shouting and cheering when Louise shoots Harlan. That was the moment I knew the audience was essential.
Thelma & Louise is well-known for taking some standard buddy movie tropes and switching the heroes to women. It's also a road movie, another genre largely limited to men in those days. The scenery is crucial ... when we see Monument Valley, we're seeing John Ford, and we're seeing two women where men would have been in Ford's films. The film, and the characters, claim Monument Valley for their own.
The characters are iconic; the performances of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon are as well. Both have done great work in their careers ... both have an Oscar on their shelf ... but one shot of them in Thelma & Louise and for a moment, you forget they were ever in anything else:
One of the pleasures of watching older movies is seeing familiar faces in the cast. Everyone knows that Sarandon and Davis were in the movie ... you might also remember Harvey Keitel ... and there's Michael Madsen and Stephen Tobolowsky and Christopher McDonald and Lucinda Jenney. But there was also one actor whose career took off after Thelma & Louise. He was in his late-20s, had been in a few movies no one saw, and had a few roles on TV. But he made quite an impression when he turned up on the screen in Thelma & Louise:
It's the movie that made Brad Pitt a star. And even though the audience last night knew he was in it, and remembered him quite well, still, there was something about his entrance that enthralled just as it did in 1991.
Finally, here's one more clip that you will remember ... everybody remembers it. We now know who Brad Pitt is, but I bet you don't know the name Marco St. John. This will jog your memory:
#706 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all-time.