Study Guide

Thelma & Louise Criminality

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Okay, so if someone asks you to define criminality, you probably start thinking something like, "It's stuff that's against the law." Right? According to U.S. law, for example, Louise has committed a homicide by killing Harlan, since Thelma was technically "safe" when she did it.

Despite the fact that we in the audience are pretty much right there with Louise, the legal system is not set up to pardon her for her actions—quite the opposite. In fact, Louise states right off the bat that nobody will believe their story—and that Thelma's having drunk and cavorted with Harlan will discourage the claim that he attacked her.

So what's actually criminal, and what's not? Thelma and Louise doesn't have any easy answers, but it's sure asking the right questions.

Questions About Criminality

  1. Louise committed a crime by shooting Harlan. What was Harlan's crime? How might it be defined by the current legal system, and what sentence might he have received?
  2. What adjectives—beside "criminal"—would you use to describe Thelma and Louise? Back this up with evidence from the film.
  3. Find current cases of sexual assault in the U.S. in which the women weren't considered believable and compare them to Thelma and Louise. How do you think the legal system should deal with issues of sexual assault? Is there a better way?
  4. How do Thelma and Louise fulfill or challenge conventional outlaw stereotypes?

Chew on This

Thelma and Louise supports the idea that there is a flaw in the way criminality is defined by the U.S. legal system.

Resorting to crime was an effective way for Thelma and Louise to challenge their society.

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