'Thelma & Louise' Turns 25: Looking Back at the Most Feminist Scenes in the Movie

The Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon film premiered in 1991.

May 24, 2016, 4:45 AM

— -- Geena Davis has been advocating for better female representation in Hollywood for years.

Women, she's argued, are all too often relegated to playing secondary parts, and have very few opportunities to do truly gutsy things on camera.

It was her role as Thelma in "Thelma & Louise" led her to what she's called her "revelation."

"Identifying with a character is one of the best parts of seeing a movie, but as women, we’ve had to train ourselves to experience the male journey. So from then on, I made a conscious choice to think about the women in the audience. 'What will they think?'" she told Vulture earlier this year. "And it’s not to say we aren’t girlfriends, wives, or partners -- of course we are. But that’s not all we are, and that’s the problem."

So, for those who haven't seen the film, here's the gist: In the first 20 minutes, Thelma (Davis), an unhappily married housewife, and Louise (Susan Sarandon) agree to take a road trip together. During their first pit stop, Thelma picks up a guy at a bar, who turns out to be a sex offender. After he attempts to rape her, no-nonsense Louise intervenes, and ends up shooting him dead. The two attempt to flee to Mexico and -- spoiler alert! -- ultimately decide to drive off a cliff rather than turn themselves over to law enforcement.

The movie premiered 25 years ago today, but the truth is, it's tough to name a film since that has not only explores the importance of female friendship, but does so in an unapologetically feminist way.

Among the moments from the film that are the most celebratory of female empowerment:

Louise gives Thelma a hard time about her low-life husband: Louise, an independent woman who works at a local diner, mocks Thelma for saying she needs her husband's permission before agreeing to go on the trip. When they're on the road, Thelma complains that "all he wants me to do is hang around the house the whole time when he does God knows what." "You get what you settle for," Louise responds.

Louise's interaction with Harlan: When Harlan, a drunken misogynist, hits on Thelma, Louise tells him to get lost. However, Thelma is enjoying the flirtation and agrees to dance with him. Things take a dark turn a few moments later, though; When Thelma complains that she feels sick, he takes advantage of the situation and tries to sexually assault her. Ultimately, Louise scares him off and tells him emphatically, "In the future, when a woman's crying like that, she's not having any fun."

Thelma pursues J.D.: Brad Pitt had his breakout movie role in "Thelma & Louise," playing a young criminal named J.D. who has a fling with Thelma. Oftentimes in movies, men pursue women, but here, we see the reverse. Then, after the two finally spend the night together, Louise congratulates Thelma on the fling. "That's so sweet," she said.

Louise turns down Jimmy's proposal: Louise's longtime boyfriend, Jimmy (Michael Madsen), meets up with the women on their journey to Mexico and proposes to Louise. She turns him down because she knows it's not right. "I don't want to lose you and I get the feeling like you're going to split permanently," he tells her. "That's not a good reason to get married," she responds. "I do love you. But I think it’s time to just let go of the old mistakes. Just chalk it up to bad timing. I think it’s time to let go."

Thelma and Louise's relationship with the truck driver: Throughout their journey, Thelma and Louise continue to pass a truck driver who makes lewd gestures at them. "How original," Louise remarks. "You pig," adds Thelma. Eventually, they actually come face-to-face with the truck driver, and confront him about his behavior. "Where do you get off behaving that way with women you don't even know, huh?" Louise asks him. "How'd you feel if someone did that to your mother or your sister or your wife?" (The rest of the interaction isn't as cordial. He refuses to apologize and they blow up his truck.)

Their independence and enduring friendship: Thelma and Louise do not have a perfect friendship. Louise gives Thelma a hard time when she loses their money and Thelma gets frustrated when Louise isn't totally forthcoming with her about her past. But they really do stick by each other no matter what -- including when they find themselves surrounded by cops at the end. "Let's not get caught," Thelma tells Louise. "Let's keep going." They kiss, and Louise hits the accelerator. The movie ends with a freeze frame of the women holding hands as their car soars into the Grand Canyon. "We retain control of our lives to the bitter end," Davis explained on "Good Morning America" in April. "Once we've tasted being in control of ourselves, we never will go back."

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