Gender Bender Over Thelma & Louise

A white-hot debate rages over whether Thelma & Louise celebrates liberated females, male bashers -- or outlaws

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All of which is a way of saying, "Baby, you've still got a long way to go." And a way of saying that, seen in narrowly feminist terms, Thelma & Louise advances the women's movement only a few hesitant steps. But perhaps the film should not be looked at that way. Davis, for one, resents the connection: "Why, because it stars women, is this suddenly a feminist treatise, given the burden of representing all women?"

A good point. In its messy, likable way, Thelma & Louise is getting at even larger, more mysterious issues. Carol Clover, a film scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, says the movie is trying to study, among other topics, "the distance between men and women, the desire for each sex to separate itself." It also attempts to look at the opposite side of that coin: the increasingly dangerous ways in which the sexes come together. Novelist James Carroll wrote last week in the New Republic that "when men and women reduce each other to sexual objects, they take the first step toward beating each other up."

Since this movie demonstrates Clover's point, and since it places that point in a context that is satirically aware of the violent and depersonalizing traditions of our visual popular culture, it just may be that Thelma & Louise is in fact better than any of its exegetes have made it sound. It remains the most intriguing movie now in release. No other cheers one's argumentative spirit, stirs one's critical imagination, and awakens one's protective affection in quite the way Thelma & Louise does.

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