"I'm in deep shit. Deep Shit, Arkansas."

- Louise

Themes in Thelma & Louise

Home >> Thelma & Louise >> Theme

Theme is an underlying topic or subject that unifies a creative work and sends a message to the viewer or listener. Themes are often subtle and subjective.

In Thelma & Louise, the two most prominent themes are "Freedom" and "Women vs. Men." Watch the movie and note how these two central ideas govern several scenes and sequences in it.



Thelma and Louise's journey begins as an attempt for the gals to be free. Free from work, free from relationships, free from responsibilities, free from concerns and upsets. In fact, free from their lives. They want to escape and experience something new, different.

In the first scene with Thelma, she has to ask permission to her husband, Darryl, to go on the trip. But she's so frightened of his reaction, she cannot make herself do it. Every time Thelma calls "honey" and Darryl barks "what?" she has to casually change topics and ask something else instead. This married life became a prison to Thelma, with Darryl being the warden.

After killing Harlan during the first plot point, Louise becomes a murderer, and another level of freedom is brought into the mix. Now, Louise and Thelma have to be free from guilt, or at least free from imprisonment. This freedom becomes the vital goal for the girls for the remaining of the movie.

When Thelma calls Darryl, Darryl continues to patronize her, and she finishes the conversation with "go fuck yourself." Halfway in the movie, Thelma achieves ultimate freedom from her marriage when she sleeps with JD. Louise, in the room next doors, refuses her boyfriend's proposal. She too rejects commitment.

Later in the movie while talking with Detective Slocumb, Louise explains, "Certain words and phrases just keep drifting through my mind, things like, incarceration, cavity search, death by electrocution, life in prison, shit like that, know what I'm sayin', so do I want to come out alive... " This comment is a major foreshadowing of the "contrived" ending.

When Louise and Thelma are cornered by the police and FBI on the edge of the Grand Canyon, the gals make a conscious choice to drive off the cliff. The motivation of freedom overpowers common sense and cuts their lives short.

thelma & louise driving off cliff grand canyon


Women vs. Men

The subject of "Women vs. Men" is perhaps one of the distinguishing features in Thelma & Louise. It caused controversy when the movie was released and earned it the title of "feminist." Since Thelma and Louise fight several men, this idea is further developed and made obvious throughout the film.

What follows is a list of the major players from the opposite sex that stand between our two lovely protagonists and their hopes for freedom:

In fact, if you check the credits in the movie plus what was compiled by IMDb you will note that the cast of the movie is comprised of four actresses (including Susan and Geena) and about 20 actors. And considering how many problems they face, it is obvious that men are the ones causing havoc to them.

Note that the investigator, the truck driver, and state trooper could have been played by actresses (although against the obvious stereotype since they are men professions). But this would have been a wrong choice. They are all men because, indeed, Thelma & Louise is about the conflict between the man world and these two women.

thelma & louise truck explosion

Plus, all these men are stereotypical characters that women may face at some point or another. Darryl is the pathetic, overprotective, egocentric husband that only cares about his happiness completely disregarding Thelma's wishes.

Harlan is the abusive suitor that crosses the line and attempts rape. Unfortunately, many women have been victims of this horrendous crime. Louise, as the proverbial heroine, steps in right in time to give what all rapists deserve – a bullet in the stomach.

JD, who becomes Thelma's last hope for a decent relationship in the movie, comes in as the opposite hybrid of Harlan and Darryl. His young, good-looking, polite, courteous, respectful… However, her expectations are shattered when JD steals the gals.