Verified Valentine: Thelma and Louise

By JOHN CARTER JR

Tiger Media Network

“It’s the bravest thing you can do, is to be open to another person, right?” said Susan Sarandon to Drew Barrymore on the latter´s talk show regarding 1991’s girls trip gone horribly wrong – the now classic, “Thelma & Louise.” Barrymore and Sarandon both interpret the film as being a love story and see it as romantic (an assertion to which I agree) and upon hearing the aforementioned quote, Barrymore was moved. She had previously stated in this discussion that she loved “platonic” love stories like Peter Bogdanovich’s “Paper Moon,” Martin Brest’s “Midnight Run,” and John Hughes’ “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” She said that, without the sex aspect of these relationships, these movies let her focus on the love itself. This got my mind thinking about ideas concerning love that I had previously thought about but didn’t have the confidence to express. What is love, actually? Dear readers, for the remainder of the Verified Valentine series, we will explore these ideas.

Louise stops Harlan

What started as a little getaway for Thelma (Geena Davis) and her best friend Louise (Susan Sarandon) would quickly turn into a nightmare. During a night of dancing at a bar at the beginning of their trip, a man named Harlan attempted to sexually assault Thelma. Louise, who had heard her cries, brandished the gun Thelma had brought on the trip. Pressing the gun into the cretin’s face, Louise secures Thelma’s safety. As they begin to back away, Harlan insults both women saying he should’ve gone ahead with the act in his grotesque words. Filled with rage, Louise shoots Harlan. This is where their journey begins. “Thelma and Louise” is a journey two humans take, getting closer to their whole or true selves, and the further they get away from what suppresses or oppresses them. Whether this be the trauma of their past, their previous relationships, the law they think won’t understand, or even themselves.

I first alluded to my ideas about love in my review on Beaches when discussing the relationship between C.C. and Hilary. 

“This was not simply a friendship and it wasn’t a sexual relationship. It certainly could have had qualities of the aforementioned types of relationships, and it would not have changed the love that they had for each other. The truth is all they needed was each other, just existing.” 

To expand upon this idea, love is the same thing regardless of who you give it to. Love is its own concept. Describing love with these extra labels, whether that be platonic, romantic, friendship, and so on, does not serve the purpose of describing the love that’s going on. It describes how you may express love, what you may hope to gain from a relationship, or the labels you may use to describe each other.

That being said, love isn’t romance or sex or carnal desires, and love isn’t simply hanging out with a friend or exchanging what you do with one. While these actions can be made as expressions of love, they are not the love itself. We often attempt to make distinctions between our relationships through the ways in which we describe the love that we have. However, it is not describing a difference in the love that we have, but rather simply what we do specifically with different people. Both Sarandon and Barrymore describe the film as being romantic, but then she talks about her love for platonic relationships in relation to this film. It’s too hard to describe their relationship with just the word platonic or romantic. Thelma and Louise like CC and Hillary from Beaches have true love for each other and could express that in many ways, but none of those expressions are the love itself. They are truly bonded people through their trials and love for each other. The kiss at the end of the film indicates the openness to the expressions of love these connected humans have for each other. That raises the question: if these are not love itself, what is?

Thelma and Louise stop a cop from following them

Throughout the film, there are different moments when the characters express care for each other. Louise really wants to take this relaxing trip with Thelma so she can get out. Louise protects Thelma from a predator, Thelma protects Louise from the law, and states she would rather continue on with her rather than turn herself in. Everyone has their own nuanced way of describing love. Some definitions include ideas like putting someone’s needs above your own. Some say it’s attraction, and some say it’s having understanding. While these are important facets of different potential relationships I don’t think these exactly hit the mark. Through the actions that we see from the characters in the film, some common threads make themselves apparent. 

Having love for someone is having the desire for them to be happy and safe. Expressions of love are actions made to see those things. Thelma is fully willing to continue on with Louise, and Louise is fully willing to go on her own after what happened with Harlan. Both characters don’t want the other to be alone through the journey and want to be freed from what haunts them. They want each other to be happy and free. I see love happen between “The Handmaiden’s” Hideko and Sook-Hee not when they are cartoonishly having sex for classic Chan-wook shock value but when Sook-Hee (enraged with what Hideko’s uncle has done to her) tears down the source of her trauma. 

I see love happen between Beaches’ C.C. and Hilary when the latter gets sick and the former comes to her side and subsequently takes in her daughter. I see love when Ruby and Sapphire take responsibility for their part in each other’s hurt, allowing for healing between them in “Steven Universe”. In Thelma and Louise, it’s the moments leading up to and following the iconic kiss. Thelma encourages Louise, saying “let’s keep going” on the edge of the Grand Canyon; after the kiss, they embrace hands and drive into the sky.

Thelma and Louise keep on going

Thelma and Louise”is the heartbreaking tale of two souls who want to stay with each other. With plenty of opportunities to leave, these women chose their freedom and the happiness that it brought for them. They braved the journey of bearing their trauma to one another on this journey filled with highs and lows of its own. Through the shedding of the shackles of the darkness that haunted them and their truth being willingly opened up for each other, they came to be able to understand each other in ways they may never have before. Understanding is foundational to love, especially love without conditions. It is about seeing you in others and others in you. Love is boundless. It doesn’t bend to imposed labels or boxes like gay, straight, black, white, mother, child, boyfriend, or wife. It’s saying, “I get you. I want you to be happy, safe, and free. Whether with or without me.” For Thelma and Louise, they chose with.

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