Even if you've never seen Thelma and Louise, you probably know two things about it: 1) It's a movie about a feminist awakening that doesn't end too well for the women, and 2) that it was most of the world's first thirsty look at Brad Pitt. What we don't really think about much, is how it subtly changed the way movies do sex scenes — that is, if they want to appeal to women the way the 1991 flick did.
"J.D. filled the customary girl part, the nubile sex object who beds the star and then disappears,” writer Becky Aikman wrote of Pitt's character in her new book, Off The Cliff: How the Making of ‘Thelma and Louise’ Drove Hollywood to the Edge (as quoted by People). She goes on to reveal how screenwriter Callie Khouri, director Ridley Scott, and stars Geena Davis and Pitt turned this part of the movie into a demonstration of the female gaze.
J.D. is the character Davis' Thelma and Susan Sarandon's Louise pick up hitch-hiking while they're on the run from the law and Thelma's abusive husband. He says he's a student going back to school, but he later admits that he's actually a bank robber and eventually runs off with the women's money. But that plot detail isn't the most important part of his scenes — it's all about how Thelma rediscovers her sexual power.
"Callie [Khouri’s] dialogue stoked a seduction where the characters actually talked to each other, with humor, affection and interest," Aikman wrote. While Davis and Pitt played up their natural chemistry, Scott helped with a little trick of his own "personally spritzing Evian on [Pitt's] abs, the better to make them glisten."
Wait, why Evian? Would tap water not have had the same effect? Anyway, this is the kind of thing other directors were instead doing to their female stars up until this point, making sure they were hyper-sexualized in every frame. No wonder we can't look away from Pitt in this movie, despite the fact that he's a rather minor character in it.
“[Davis] ogled [Pitt’s] body with such libidinous, googly-eyed wonder that her gaze of clear delight made him a sex symbol as much as those Evian abs and easy charm,” Aikman wrote. “The audience saw him through her eyes. Together, Geena, Brad, Ridley and Callie had invented a new language: they had created a movie sex scene from the woman’s point of view.”
Forget about having this movie to thank for Pitt's career. We also can credit it with the likes of everything from Sex and the City to Outlander, Magic Mike to Diary of a Teenage Girl. There are still more movies that go the other way around, objectifying women even as they attempt to appeal to us. But for those that don't, we raise a glass of Evian to you.
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