Road Movie Genre As Redefined By Thelma and Louise

Road Movie Genre As Redefined By Thelma and Louise. The road movie genre is part of American cinema genres that dramatizes a fascination with being mobile. The genre features characters who not only cross geographic boundaries but also transgress the moral limitations. Thelma and Louise is one such film where the plot involves a road trip by two friends who encounter unforeseen consequences including attempted rape, murder, being fugitives on the run, and a moral conflict. The thematic elements evident in the film include freedom, challenging gendered norms, and the feminist aspect where women and sisterhood are glorified. By offering a feminist perspective in the film, Thelma and Louise redefines the road movie genre through a challenge of Hollywood’s gendered myths and the amplification of sisterhood over the male buddy.

Challenging gendered myths

            Thelma and Louise challenges the gendered myths that privilege the male discourse through advancing a plot where women move beyond the stereotypical confines defined by society as well as Hollywood film. From a social and historical context, the traditional role of women in Hollywood is that of passivity while men take up the active agency. Man (n.d) in showing how the active and passive roles have been constructed notes that the representation of men is as controlling and dominating over the female through a voyeurism that punishes or devalues or through overvaluing the physical beauty of women as objects (p38). Such refers to the context of increased objectification of women and the glorification of men not only in Hollywood but also in society. Rather than confirm or advance such gendered myths, Thelma and Louise casts women as being in control of their own destinies and capable of going against established stereotypes linked to femininity. As an example, the road movie genre is largely characterized by the subjectivity of the male buddy aspect and an objectification of women. In Thelma and Louise, the two women take a subjective role as they hit the road even without informing their men. While such would be expected of men, Thelma and Louise are cast as subverting the male discourse expectations.

Road Movie Genre As Redefined By Thelma and Louise

            The two protagonists in the film show the futility of a male dominated justice system by appropriating a criminal role and resisting recuperation. In one of the scenes, Thelma has a near rape experience at the hands of Harlan and this triggers Louise’s past rape and the injustice she experienced in a male dominated justice system. As Harlan shouts ‘suck my cock’, Louise kills him and they flee from the scene (Thelma and Louise, 1991). The historical and social context of Hollywood film is abound with the depiction of the male as the criminal while the female is just an accomplice. The film itself also depicts this aspect during the interaction between Thelma and J.D who is a fugitive who not only steals from the protagonists but also teaches Thelma how to rob. Thelma later uses the techniques learnt to rob a convenience store and thus further appropriates the criminal role for the women. In light of this, the film is glorifying femininity over masculinity in what can be considered male bashing. The fact that the protagonists drive over a cliff rather than surrender to the FBI shows a rejection to appropriation by the male dominated justice system that also advances male privilege. As such, the appropriation of a female-criminal role by the protagonists challenges the gendered myth that glorifies men over women and advances a feminist subjectivity in the road movie genre.

Amplification of sisterhood

            Evident in this film is the thematic elements of women and power and the amplification of sisterhood over individualism. As part of challenging the gendered norms, the film casts women as capable of having power that is characterized by the fact that the protagonists achieve freedom and fail to yield to the expectations of the male gaze and the subsequent objectification. Laderman (2002) advances the notion that the road movie genre creates tension between rebellion and conformity where there is an exaltation of rebellion over conformity. Thelma and Louise subscribes to this iconography of the road movie genre by depicting the two protagonists as rebelling against socially constructed norms and expectations (Dargis 86). The two women decide to take an impromptu trip without informing their men and this shows a rebellion against relationship, work, responsibilities, and concerns. The film is situated at a time when there was change in the American conversation on feminism and thus shows the two women pushing back against traditional norms (Waxman, 2016, Para 5). Thelma and Louise push back against such norms through their search for independence and their rejection of recuperation by patriarchy. In essence this drives them to the achievement of ultimate power such that they are not willing to compromise it through surrender. The search for freedom becomes the search for power.

            The film amplifies sisterhood and challenges the notion of the male buddies while advancing the essence of feminism in the road movie genre. The road movie genre often exhibits individualism in the character while also creating connection that may be between the characters or between a character and a machine. Thelma and Louise depicts both aspects but emphasizes on the connection creates between Thelma and Louise in what translates to sisterhood. The thematic element of sisterhood is evident right from the start when the two protagonists decide to take a road trip and a weekend vacation at a fishing cabin without the men in their lives. Such can be seen as the first step towards creating and advancing the bonds of sisterhood that continue to grow throughout the film. When Louise defends Thelma by killing Harlan and the two decide to stick together, this also promotes sisterhood and so does their decision to drive off the cliff together after sharing a kiss. According to Man (n.d), the visual sign of their sisterhood bond is visible when the two drive through the silence of the desert night. Sisterhood displayed in the film contrasts to the male buddy politic linked to the road movie genre and thus challenges the classical paradigm.


            Thelma and Louise is a film that advances feminist aspect by challenging traditional norms linked to masculinity and femininity. The two protagonists take a subjective role in the film and begin a journey in search of freedom and this gives them ultimate power that they depict throughout the film. Thelma and Louise rebel against the male privilege imposed by society and rather opt to develop the bonds of sisterhood that advance a feminist perspective in the movie. Essentially, the film challenges the male dominance linked to road movie genre and rather imposes a feminist paradigm shift.

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