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Gender on the Road:  Boys on the Side by Herbert Ross

and Thelma & Louise by Ridley Scott


The film directed by Ridley Scott Thelma & Louise as well as Boys on the Side by Herbert Ross, represent a typical gender genre. The presented world in both stories is created by women and exclusively for women. All women make their decisions clearly and in a very distinctive way leave the men out of the play. The heroines act bravely and spontaneously. They stand against oppressive and sexist society. They may be even perceived as insane as they try following their own wild visions and fight creatively against sexual repression .

We recognise that heroines are presented in such a way that their actions and self - expression are closer to their experience than it happens usually with men. All women presented in the films achieve gradually true authority by simultaneous by conforming and subverting patriarchal standards. The female strategy is assaulting, revising and deconstructing the images of women that exist in "the men’s world" and were created by men many centuries ago.

We recognise how with the sentimental magnetism women speak entirely with their own voice. How women materialise what they are thinking, how their doing is more than just the pure extension of their self. The voice that all women express is very distinctive and has power to stand against the oppressive effects of the dominant patriarchal modes. The fact that women have their privileged relationship to the voice is due to their lack of defence-mechanism. Women defend themselves differently than men normally do. They lack the physical strength of the men so their voices and actions are more emotional but beside this immensely powerful and appealing to the audience.

In the film by Herbert Ross Boys on the Side we have three young women on the margin of culture, who reject the life goals of their contemporaries. They all have small but true talents and eventually fit themselves into their society. An Afro-American lesbian singer, an HIV-positive "white-white" and a naive cute pregnant blonde who are heading towards west and during this phase of their life they enact the gesture of rebellion.

They share a deep and true friendship but in the same time they are on the road towards west for completely different reasons. Their journey takes them from New York through Pittsburgh to Tucson (Arizona), where they settle down in the end. After Robin ( Mary Louise Parker) infected by HIV dies, Holly (Drew Barrymore) marries and Jane Deluca (Whoopi Goldberg who plays an accepted lesbian ) takes up a new goal in her life which is the road to Los Angeles. Despite all differences the women’s bond grow stronger on the road. Their utopian friendship helps them to overcome problems with a violent drug dealer, a homicide, HIV and in the end a Tucon cop named Abe Lincoln.

The American road motif serves here once again for presentation of the very complex issue of American cultural life, which touches such problems as race prejudice, homosexuality (lesbianism) vs. Heterosexuality, violence, Aids, and love-friendship relationships. Here just as well as in many other American road movies music has a decisive contribution to all important scenes. The masterworks composed by women constitute original music soundtrack of this film. We hear rock ballads expressed freely with women’s voices. There is a clear distinction between women that became rock stars and the produced sound of all recordings accompanying the film scenes. They all create the mood that intensifies the messages coming out of the story.

Such names of rock ladies as Annie Lennox, Bonnie Rait, Melisa Etheridge, or Sheryl Crow are just a few to choose from the original film soundtrack album which contains eleven passionate rock ballads. The film soundtrack starts with very popular rock classic "You Got It" by Bonnie Rait. All eleven stars singing are famous rock ladies and the music was specially composed for them.

Even the actress Woopi Goldberg uses her voice in a second version of the song "You got It" to show the controversy of constant questioning about the sense of life and friendship, the bitterness of loneliness, and irritating debate between the sexes. Further on we hear such rock stars as Stevie Nicks, Joan Armtrading and Chrissie Hynde who repersent " who is who" in the 20th century rock music scene. We hear many soft and sentimental rock ballads made by and exclusively for women.

On the other hand the Percy Main’s film production of the book "Thelma & Louise" by Michelle Bowers, brings a lot of controversy. The main characters, a pair of unladylike women hit the road for the weekend. After they arrive to the motel they take an opportunity to spend a pleasant evening in the local bar. They spent some time in a company of a handsome and friendly stranger and everything goes fine. At the moment when the women are about to leave the bar he forces Thelma to have an intercourse with him. Louise watching this violent scene shoots the man trying to defend her helpless friend.

This buddy movie roared into theatres in 1991 and sparked an explosion of debate between sexes. Millions of American women identified themselves secretly with Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) who were on the road in order to take a break from the tedious lives and their men. At the beginning very shy and hesitating, sometimes even naive, finally they pull themselves together to fight against all controversy and to break all the rules set by men.

The spontaneous acting of these two friends against oppressive and sexist society may be understood as a utopian vision and creativity which have their roots in sexual repression . In the actions of Thelma just as well as Louise we find the reflections of their breakdown, confrontation of the political and sexual problems in taking the roles of independent women. After being swindled and assaulted, they shoot a would-be rapist, resort to armed but very polite robbery, and outwit the police.

Some of the critics from U.S. News & the World Report condemned this movie, labelling it as explicitly "toxic" and degrading to men. The Time magazine noted that "Thelma & Louise" belongs to unwittingly "tapped into a wild-rushing subterranean stream of inchoate rage and deranged violence".

Indeed, the large part of the film is centred on a perceived violence, although only would-be rapist gets killed in the end. The film makers and stars countered that the real source of this scandalous outcry was the fact that the first time in the film somehow the violence was openly directed at men.

"A lot of people are very sensitive and like their violence in a very particular way: male on male or male on female". (screen writer Callie Khouri)

In this film there are noticeable interesting differences about women approach towards life and the world that they share with the men. The reason for this is their experience which differs very much from that of men as the women have a different perception of the world. Different experience that comes from different roles requires a different style of acting and articulation. So this is why women decide for some innovations even if this would mean sometimes taking up risk and confronting serious danger.

Particularly Thelma and Louise experience isolation, betrayal, loss and later even guilt within the limitations of social conventions which are set by male attitudes and their behaviour towards women. Especially in this film we find scenes which portray the brutal disillusionment of women characters that seek self-fulfilment. The relations with men presented in "Thelma & Louise" represent frustration and finally end with tragedy which results from women’s revolting independence.

In this road play the heroines discover gradually their own power potential and this leads them to rebellion against structures of oppression. These women who are generally searching for their stabilised identity, move in desperation from the position of a victim to victimiser and experience gradually growing rejection of the society. Always disadvantaged, Thelma and Louise revolt against the standards set by the society and most of all separation of the roles of male and female.

Finally the situation in which they find themselves becomes extremely difficult and prepares unexpected traps. Nonetheless Thelma and Louise wrench away from the dependency and spring free from men’s demands. Both women rebel to follow their wildest dreams. In protest they consequently keep their solidarity till the end of the story. They remain truly to each other until they spring free in unlimited space of unknown over the Grand Canyon.


E. Hämmerle

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