Transformation of heroines in 12 archetypal steps
1. Warrior →Fool (The exposition of a wound — ego) BATTLEFIELD
Thelma and Louise are on a metaphorical battlefield against men. They are both treated badly by their husbands. Should they remain subordinate, or not?
2. Creator →Orphan (A ray of hope) HEART’S DESIRE
Both Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) dream about an adventure and freedom, but they are afraid of what will happen if they leave. Eventually, their hearts win.
3. Explorer →Magician (The hero decides to go on a quest) A BETTER LIFE IS POSSIBLE
They just don’t deserve to be treated like shit, so Louise kills a dirty-mouthed rapist.
Thelma: “Should we tell the police what happened?”
Louise: “A hundred people saw you dancing with him all night cheek to cheek. Who is going to believe us? We don’t live in that kind of world, Thelma.”
The adventure towards a better life begins; there is no turning back. (Later on, we’ll realize that Louise plays the role of a mentor here… she had been in the same kind of situation in the past).
4. Lover →Caregiver (Wish storyline) LOVE INTRODUCED
Detective Hall (amazing Hervey Keitel) enters the story. He is going to be the only compassionate man who understands our protagonists. Both Thelma and Louise are afraid, they feel unsafe and call back home.
Thelma’s ‘wish’ and possible romance comes in as well: J.D. (Brad Pitt), but Louise is not willing to give him a ride.
5. Sage →Destroyer (Healing is possible) REASONS BEHIND SUFFERING
Louise tries to persuade her boyfriend Jimmy to wire her the money for the escape, she asks him if he loves her, but the answer is not satisfying. She drinks.
Thelma calls Darryl (her husband) but he acts like a jerk as always, so she finally says to him that he is not her father and to fuck off.
The main thing: Louise wants to travel from Oklahoma to Mexico but not through Texas! Something happened there. WHAT?
6. Ruler →Innocent (On the top of the false mountain) WISH FULFILLED
Instead of just sending the money, Jimmy shows up and brings the money to Louise in person. He finally proposes to her, her wish is fulfilled, she loves him, but she doesn’t need it anymore and not like that. He gives her the ring anyway and leaves. She is sad.
J.D. sweet-talks Thelma, so her wish is fulfilled as well. She sleeps with him, and this is the first sex she has ever really enjoyed.
Also, Louise makes the worst possible mistake by trusting Thelma, and Thelma makes the worst possible mistake by trusting J.D. He ends up stealing their money. They are devastated. Plan A goes out the window. (Switch in characters: Louise who was a leader, is broken, Thelma takes the lead).
7. Fool →Warrior (Need storyline) DOUBLE IDENTITY — FOOL AND GAMES UPSIDE DOWN (INSIDE OUT)
Meanwhile, men do what they do the best: they are preparing a mousetrap and crack jokes about women. The police visit Darryl and tell him that “if Thelma calls, to be gentle because women like that shit.”
When Thelma robs the store, her right (free) and wrong (subordinate) identities converge. It is definitely the most fun scene in the movie.
Thelma and Louise start enjoying themselves; they actually have the time of their lives.
8. Orphan →Creator (Loneliness) PROBLEMS IN (CRISS-CROSS) RELATIONSHIPS
J.D. is questioned by detective Hall. Later on, he makes Darryl want to kill him by saying: “I like your wife” (cheating).
Thelma calls Darryl; he acts nice, which is only possible if the police tapped his phone. Louise talks to detective Hall, he knows they are going to Mexico.
Louise and Thelma have a fight over Thelma talking to people. They meet the nasty truck driver yet again. A state policeman stops them for speeding, they lock him in the trunk of his car: “Be sweet to your wife, my husband was not sweet to me, and look how I turned out. (Fairness).
9. Magician →Explorer (Magic comes from the above) THE TRUTH IS KNOWN
Thelma doesn’t want to talk about what happened to her, but she was raped in Texas.
Louise talks to detective Hall again, he knows what happened in Texas, he is giving them a chance if they give themselves up; otherwise, they will be wanted for murder.
But something occurs to both of them: both Thelma and Louise never felt more alive, they have something to look forward to, they dream about drinking margaritas by the sea.
(Since this movie will end tragically, this stage is the combination of the lowest moment in the story (Louise was raped) and the highest and brightest moment in the story (they just belong being free).
10. Caregiver →Lover (Emotional breakdown) FINAL SEPARATION
A lesson to the nasty truck driver (and all nasty men): “You say you’re sorry or I’m gonna make you fucking sorry.”
This is the final step where we see that Thelma and Louise are not just some girls being controlled by men, they know how to take care of themselves, and they are in control now. The truck explodes as their freedom explodes.
(Same as the previous stage, this is the highest point, the biggest release of energy, because they are going to die, and the lowest for men). This is the last act turning point.
11. Destroyer →Sage (Death of an old belief, self) KILL OR HEAL (Change or die)
Their biggest fear, the police, are chasing them. They don’t want to be killed.
12. Innocent →Ruler (Ascension to a new world) LIVE AND SHARE LOVE
Even though detective Hall is compassionate and he wants to protect Thelma and Louise, they are the rulers of their destinies, and they decide they are going to live forever. Their freedom now belongs to all women.
Thelma and Louise
The archetypal structure is built into the character’s arc and vice versa
The character’s arc of Thelma and Louise is a ‘cross’ between the Innocent and Ruler archetypes. We start in the Ruler Shadow archetype (Act 1) (all negative man and their lack of strength to stand up). Then we move into the Innocent Positive (Act 2) and Thelma and Louise are literally innocent when that guy tries to rape Thelma. Then we move into the Shadow Innocent (Act 3): they break boundaries and start to steal and they are no longer innocent, but this is necessary in order for them to build up their strength and become Positive Ruler (Act 4) at the end of the film.
It is clear how the opposing archetype is always a trigger for the defining one, one is built into the other as together they create change.
*Let me know what films you want to see analyzed in the coming posts.