|Character Arc is the idea that characters must grow or evolve during a narrative work, whether it may be a novel, a play, or a movie. Although usually characters end wiser or in a better situation than they were at the beginning of the story, occasionally characters may end at a worse situation.|
In Thelma & Louise, the two lovely main characters go through a significant Arc, although in contrasting ways. Since Louise and Thelma are inherently different from one another, their Arcs are also different. In fact, whereas Thelma undergoes a huge transition from the little housewife to a robber, Louise practically remains the same uptight woman as she is in the beginning of the movie; this is not to imply, however, that Louise is overshadowed by Thelma, for it's Louise's actions that set the story in motion. Also, in many ways the two women are the opposite of one another. This obvious contrast is explained in another article: Character Development.
Thelma starts the movie as a submissive housewife who absolutely cannot stand up to her husband, Daryl.
Thelma is so afraid of Daryl that she can't ask permission to go on the trip with Louise. Thus, in order to avoid fighting him and being repressed, Thelma leaves him a note and "escapes" behind his back. This fact by itself is already a growth, as Thelma finds the courage to carry on with her plans.
In the Silver Bullet, Thelma orders a drink. This is perhaps the first big revelation of her true demeanor that had been repressed in years of an unhappy marriage and that is now, finally, beginning to flourish.
|From the DVD audio commentary...
Director Ridley Scott says that this bar scene shows "Thelma gradually discovering there is a world outside, beyond her kitchen and her husband."
After a couple drinks, Thelma dances with a Harlan, a patron that was hitting on her. In this scene, Thelma is also shown smoking for the first time – yet another instance of her growth. In a previous scene, she was childishly holding an unlit cigarette and pretending to be Louise.
After the gals run away, Thelma calls her husband, Daryl. Daryl picks up the phone, and they talk a little bit. Daryl continues to patronize and oppress Thelma as he'd been doing throughout their union. But this time, he pisses Thelma off so much, that she gathers the strength to finally say, "Go f*** yourself."
While being interrogated by the police, Daryl discloses that Thelma cannot handle a gun. An early scene also shows Thelma unskillfully holding her revolver. This lack of dexterity changes after she meets JD. The young criminal doesn't really teach Thelma how to use a gun, but he lectures her on how to rob a store. When the opportunity presents itself, Thelma mimics JD and successfully conducts the robbery.
In a later scene, when Louise is stopped by a State Trooper and taken into his vehicle, Thelma comes to her rescue. She pulls out the revolver and holds it against his head. Both gals get in control and lock him in the trunk. After driving off, Thelma says, "I know it's crazy, but I just feel I have a neck for this shit." Louise concurs, "I believe you do."
Thelma's Arc is hard not to notice. She goes from being an intimidated housewife who can't even talk to her husband to becoming a clever criminal who sticks up a market and a policeman at gunpoint.