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Thelma and Louise: The New Frontier March 14, 2007

Posted by jenniferlewk in Thelma and Louise.
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The setting of Thelma and Louise is pivotal to its success as a film. Thelma and Louise break free from their constraining homes and jobs and set out West, a place symbolic of rebirth. They go West to create a new life and do succeed. Thelma and Louise grow as friends and as women. They learn to accept each other’s vulnerabilities and faults, while embracing their strengths and intuitiveness. The film, however, takes place in the western frontier, a place which simultaneously embodies the Anglo-American desire for conquest. Thus, these women try to start a new life in a setting where conquest has thrived. The frontier is gendered because this conquest and westward expansion has historically been male, Anglo, Protestant breeding grounds. The women are doomed before they begin, if the frontier is understood in this manner. Indeed, the women do come to realize that the West is not an equalizer; wherever they travel, they remain trapped within the boundaries of the dominant hegemony. Men rein wherever they go, whether asserting control by rape, by theft, by wiring money, or by wearing a badge. Therefore, the contradictory space of the West does not allow the women the opportunity to be fugitives while beginning a new life. So, the women head a different direction, south, to escape their subjugation. Although the pretext for traveling south to Mexico is to escape the law, it is important to note that the border is not just a physical crossing. Instead, the special movement of border crossing involves the mixture of cultural forms and identities. If they can cross the border, the have the chance to become independent from the law’s gender biases and from the broader social constructs that rule the American way of life. However, white male cops (the stereotypical image of American “justice”) catch these outlaws while they are at the Grand Canyon. Nevertheless, these women remarkably retain their agency in this mystical location. They agree that they can not go back their former subjugated selves, so they drive over the cliff to commit suicide. The drive isn’t a slow, creeping-up-to-the-edge path to suicide, but rather, an exhilarating rush of liberation as they fly over. The film stops with the car finally at a higher angle than the cops (the most visual representation of the dominant hegemony) as it soars over one of the wonders of the world. Thus, Thelma and Louise’s journey embodies the contradictory messages of the west: rebirth and conquest. They die because the rest of the people in the film can not accept this contradiction. After their death, life can live on in the comforts of the binary.

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