The film “Thelma and Louise” can be considered as an extraordinary movie during the early 90s since it initiates the rise of female strong characters and deviates from the standard Hollywood hero and buddy formula. The movie presents the story of two best friends who bravely decided to leave their familiar world and embark on a liberating adventure that unfortunately turns into an interstate police chase after they inevitably involve themselves with crimes. As fugitives, they exhibited tough behavior and character that redefined the usual female roles on films. The heroes are women this time.
The characters of Susan Sarandon (Louise) and Geena David (Thelma) have no resemblance with the feminine grace of Julia Roberts on films which she used to play before that. In an interview during the 90’s, Callie Khouri, the script and screenplay writer of the film Thelma and Louise, admitted that she was disappointed on how most films before the 90s portray women. She says: “It did demonstrate how hostile people are to women doing anything outside of playing sex objects, sex victims, corpses, or good girls. The description of what women should be in movies was so narrow at that time” (Khouri xxi).
The film does not depict a men-versus-women theme, just like the way others perceive this film from a feminist viewpoint. Rather, the film Thelma and Louise features freedom, this time fulfilled by women who used to lead ordinary lives in Arkansas. The first part of the movie introduces the ordinary life of Thelma and Louise. Louise is a waitress in a coffee shop and has a relationship with a musician who appears like he will never be ready to settle down, while Thelma is a housewife who has a great sense of self-importance as the district sales manager of a rug company.
The routines and ordinary lifestyle of both women presented during the first few scenes drive them to go on an adventure to experience something different. However, Thelma could not manage to inform his husband Daryl about her and Louise’s plans for a two-day trip. Due to Thelma’s hesitation towards the trip, Louise angrily suggests to Thelma “just tell him you’re going with me for crying out loud. Tell him I’m having a nervous breakdown” (“Thelma and Louise”). Thelma however believes that her husband Daryl will perceive it as a shallow reason for them to have a trip.
This particular hesitation from Thelma illustrates her restricted world with her husband. She is unable to ask for permission or freedom easily since her husband is too proud to let her explore by herself. Moreover, in the same setting when Thelma unconsciously hollers her husband reminding him to hurry up for work, Daryl immediately and angrily retorts back, reminding her that he does not want to be shouted. Thelma responds by gently asking for forgiveness and explaining that she did it for his own sake. Khouri provides insight on Daryl’s demeanor and its influence on Thelma:
Daryl is checking himself out in the mirror and it’s obvious he likes what he sees. He exudes overconfidence for reasons that never become apparent. He likes to think of himself as a real lady killer. While making imperceptible adjustments to his overmoussed hair, Thelma watches approvingly. (6) Moreover, when Thelma asks him what he wants for dinner, her husband treats her with irritation saying he does not “care a shit” what they have for dinner since he may not make it for dinner anyway. The above scenes tire and irritate Thelma.
It seems that it will always be hard for her to please her husband completely and to attain a little freedom from him no matter how submissive she is. Hence, after Daryl left for work, Thelma immediately calls Louise saying, “What time are you gonna pick me up? ” (Khouri 9), suggesting that she has decided to acquire her freedom even without her husband’s permission. As she packs for the travel and the camera closes up her room and suitcase, it can be seen that “the room looks like it was decorated entirely from a Sears’s catalogue” and that she is “bringing too much stuff for a two-day trip” (Khouri 10).
In this particular scene, the personality of Thelma is subtly demonstrated. Her femininity which she often used to attract men will greatly create problems and conflicts later in the film that will put them in the list of the most wanted fugitives in town. However, in the succeeding scenes, Thelma picks up the gun that her husband bought for her for protection. The gun symbolizes that along the way, the trip might encounter some sort of violence. Louise, on the other hand, is an ordinary girlfriend who is exasperated over her boyfriend Jimmy who appears to be neglecting her because of his very busy schedule.
It seems that he will never be prepared to get married. The consecutive scenes featuring the answering machine that she hears every time she calls Jimmy are suggestive of his constant neglect and his reluctance to get married (“Thelma and Louise”). The aforementioned scenes can help the viewers understand the motivations of the main characters to go on an adventure and try something new. Apparently, Thelma and Louise do not feel fulfilled in their familiar world.
In the succeeding parts of the film, the destiny of the female protagonists from that adventure shows the dynamic possibilities that women can take up a complex range of positions and can enter the world of masculinity. Toward the concluding scenes, Thelma tells Louise that she cannot surrender to the police since surrendering means going back to her old self. She explains, “Something has crossed over in me. I can’t go back” (“Thelma and Louise”). This scene illustrates that both of them have been changed by their experiences on the road.
Their adventures and inevitable involvement with crimes were structured in the storyline to effect change in both of the main characters—Thelma became more assertive, while Louise became more controlled. Moreover, they unconsciously acquired the costume, postures, and actions associated with males because of their fast paced adventures. Their trips that took them away from status quo and brought them to the overwhelming male-driven atmosphere transformed them. Though they broke the law and took the law unto their hands, they created personal empowerment and solidarity that made them realize the extent of their potentials.
Consequently, they acquired a better understanding of how the society often regard men as hero and stronger characters when in fact, women can also obtain the same level of accomplishment. Hence, their characters crossed over the usual and conventional gender roles in American cinema (“Thelma and Louise”). “To the Lighthouse” A novel by Virginia Woolf, “To the Lighthouse” explores women’s strengths and purpose and the significance of life. Through the novel, Woolf attempts to express the transition or the movement away from the traditional patriarchal ideals way back in Victorian era.
In the last chapter (chapter 13) of the book, when Lily draws a final line on her painting, she enthusiastically declares aloud that her painting is finally finished, feeling a weary sense of relief. It is apparent that the painting in the novel is symbolic. When the narrative comes to an end, the painting is also already completed, as if the completion of the painting means the completion of a journey. For Lily, the painting represents flexibility and completeness. Lily believes that in order to see and understand better the complexities of the characters, specifically Mrs.
Ramsay and life as a whole, she needs many pairs of eyes because only then can she be privy to every possible angle and nuance. Since having many pairs of eyes is impossible, Lily used her art of painting as a way to understand her confusion. Lily used painting to preserve her experience and memories with Ramsay’s family. Lily works on one painting throughout the novel but cannot seem to “connect the mass on the right hand with that on the left [… ] But the danger was that by doing that the unity of the whole might be broken” (Woolf 39).
After over ten years of finishing the painting, Lily manages to connect art elements, order, and substance in relation to Ramsay’s family and their complexities. A moment of clarity rests upon her after finishing the painting. She says: “nothing stays, all changes; but not words, not paint” (Woolf 133). Throughout the novel, Lily concentrated not on seeking stability and fulfillment in marriage, as Mrs. Ramsay suggested from the very beginning, but on the simple act of moving the tree on her painting more to the middle of the canvas.
She found artistic and personal fulfillment in finishing the painting because every object now is connected. It gave her a bigger understanding of reality of the relatedness of objects on people. Lily believes that as an artist, she should be able to unify disparate elements into a cohesive whole. She contemplates on how she will incorporate several people (the Ramsay’s family and their visitors) and objects (the tree and the lighthouse) into her art in order to create a singular and unified masterpiece. Her artistry represents her way of accumulating a sense of meaningful permanence in her existence.
Though at the beginning of the novel, she was confused because of Mrs. Ramsay’s strong disapproval of her being unmarried and firm belief that “an unmarried woman has missed the best of life,” when her painting came to an end, the fulfillment she felt was priceless; perhaps, it was even more than the fulfillment Mrs. Ramsay’s found in her marriage. Hence, Mrs. Ramsay represents the ideals of Victorian era that choose to seek her meaning on her home, her marriage, and her family, while Lily symbolizes a more advanced woman following the Edwardian era who found fulfillment and sense of individuality in the workplace.
The role of art in the novel attempts to freeze reality. After finishing the painting, it made Lily understand Mrs. Ramsay better in the context of creating meaning from her role as a mother and wife. Most importantly, it made her understand herself better as well by truly realizing that meaning is found in one’s passion. Moreover, because of the painting, Lily underwent a dramatic transformation over the course of the novel. From a woman who cannot make sense of different and opposing ideas, she became a person who is able to produce shapes and colors through her art that create a unified meaning.
She was able to craft something beautiful and something permanent from the temporary things around her to which she gave a deeper meaning. Her artistic achievement suggests a larger sense of completeness. When her paintings are completed, she finally feels united with Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay whose rationality and philosophical sphere were hard to understand at the beginning. In reference to Lily’s art, Charles Tansley’s comment that “women can’t paint, that women can write” reflects gender oppression (Woolf 35). It can be gleaned from that statement that men still regarded women as less capable individuals during Woolf’s time.
However, throughout the novel, some women would oppose this statement. Although women during 19th century were expected to marry in order to find fulfillment, Lily chose to dedicate herself to her art and believe that one’s sense of meaning cannot just be found on marriage, the way the society wanted to believe during that time. She is also self-sufficient and independent. Mrs. Ramsay, on the other hand, though she strongly believes in the essence of motherhood and domesticity, refuses to become any man’s wife. Moreover, she values her sense of reason.
As a matter of fact, she shared the same idea with her husband about human’s immortality. Mrs. Ramsay has her own way of employing different strategies for making her life significant which is most of the time different from that of Mr. Ramsay. She has her own means of creatively designing her own life in order to be not totally dependent on her husband. Other characters that illustrate the subversion of female gender roles are the Ramsay’s two daughters. They rejected their mother’s decision for herself, in all of its pure domesticity.
They wanted a life different from their mother that is limited to the realm of wife-mother. Moreover, they are adventurous because they are closer to the rise of industrialization. The run-on sentences of Woolf who used different punctuations to separate one thought from another reflect an understated and elegant way of writing that motivates the readers to repeatedly reread the thoughts of the texts for them to fully grasp its meaning. Throughout the novel, the writer incorporates and celebrates the value of feminism, independence, and aestheticism of art to acquire a better understanding of human nature and life.
A Comparative Analysis of “Thelma and Louise and “To the Light House” The film Thelma and Louise and the literary masterpiece “On the Lighthouse” went out of the conventional way of portraying themes and messages. The power to exercise freedom by some characters in both stories leads to self discovery and a better understanding of human life. The film broke tradition by featuring two female leads. The vibrant American imagery on films that incorporates violence, road trip genres, and heroism, not to mention the buddy system, are always given to male characters.
However, the characters of Thelma and Louise redefined this system. The wilderness they experienced outside their familiar world paved the way to be in touch to the wild women inside themselves that eventually resulted in their personal transformation. Experiencing both the masculine and feminine world allowed then to understand themselves better. On the other hand, in To the Lighthouse, the writer used women’s strength and artistry to reveal the interconnectedness between aestheticsm of art and human nature, which is the novel’s main theme.
By doing this, the writer opposes the popular belief that women have a lesser level of intellectuality and creativity. Hence, both stories redefined women’s gender role, providing their character with limitless opportunities.
Work Cited Khouri, Callie. Thelma and Louise: And, Something to Talk about : Screenplays . Canada. Grove Press, 1996 Thelma and Louise. Prod. Mimi Polk Gitlin, Callie Khouri, Dean O’Brien, Ridley Scott. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Susan Sarandon, Greena Davis. VCD. Miramax Films, 1990 Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. Ed. Bradbury, Nicola. Great Britain. Wordsworth Editions, 1994