A woman sifts through a pile of letters—some handwritten, some typed. The camera pauses to focus in on one sentence, then another:
“It was like watching all the things I’d wanted to do come to life.”
“THE SCENE WHERE THEY BLOW UP THE TRUCK!”
“I love the ending.”
In 1991, when Jennifer Townsend first saw Thelma and Louise in theaters, once wasn’t enough. In the next three days, she saw the movie three more times. Wondering how others were reacting to the film, she conducted a research study, and received responses to her questionnaire from across the country.
In Townsend’s 2017 documentary, Catching Sight of Thelma and Louise, she returns to these responses, and sets out to find some of the people who wrote to her 25 years ago. They discuss iconic scenes, their first reactions to the film, and what it means to them today. Townsend also interviews Thom Noble (editor of Thelma and Louise), Christopher McDonald (Darryl), Marco St. John (the truck driver), and scholars who have studied the iconic film.
Fiction Meets Reality
Early on in Catching Sight of Thelma and Louise, Townsend reads aloud some quotes from people who felt that Daryll’s character was the least believable part of the film—he was a caricature, is the general consensus, too awful to be real. Those interviewed, however, go on to speak about men from their pasts who reminded them not only of abusive husband Daryll, but of the lewd truck driver, and of Harlan the rapist. Viewers should be prepared for blunt descriptions of real-life rape, harassment, and in one instance, suicide. For this writer—a white woman in her 20’s who did not live through that cultural transition or experience this film as a milestone in real time—their stories served as a powerful reminder of both how far we have come in the last 25 years, and how very far we still have to go.
The discussion of militarized masculinity and the role of the police in the film remains especially relevant. One of the interviewees points out that it’s Thelma and Louise’s position as white women which gives them the time to decide to take their own lives rather than be captured by police—a black man in their situation would have been shot on sight.
Ovid.tv presents a Celebration of a Classic Movie
Everyone interviewed clearly loves the film, so if you are looking for a critique of the 1991 classic rather than a celebration, this may not be the film for you. They mention some of the original backlash the film received, but all agree it was nothing more than men feeling threatened by powerful women. The closest thing we get to a complaint about the movie is disbelief at Louise’s insistence that she and Thelma should not go through Texas, even though they are running for their lives and it would save them a full day of driving.
The group of people interviewed is fairly homogeneous—mostly older women, who felt strongly enough about the film when it first came out to answer the original questionnaire.
They speak about how they identified with various scenes and characters, how much they liked Brad Pitt, and how they stood up and cheered when Louise shot Harlan. As interesting as these recollections are, you too may be left wishing Townsend had also interviewed a few members of a younger generation. How would the reaction of a college student seeing the film for the first time in 2017 have differed from that of a college student seeing it in 1991?
Viewers should not expect a diverse range of opinions about the film, or much discussion of its current role in pop culture. However, if you adore the 1991 classic, and want to better understand just how groundbreaking it was when first released, Catching Sight of Thelma and Louise may be just your cup of tea.
About the Author:
Fiona Warnick is a Creative Writing major at Oberlin College. She has dabbled in ballet and theater, and speaks semi-passable French. Born and raised near Amherst, Massachusetts, she enjoys reading middle grade fiction and hiking in her spare time. She is trying to get better at Scrabble.