The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Gramercy Pictures, 1994
Instead of traveling solo, the heroines in Thelma & Louise (1991) escape together from social constraints and obligations from work, home and a controlling marriage. Instead of merely reflecting on their lives, throughout the movie Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) encounter real threats and real adventure (though far from comical); their short vacation quickly turns into a nightmare. Instead of chasing love, they are chased by the FBI for shooting the man who attempted to rape Thelma. In the emotional closing scene they decide to drive their car over a cliff. “Ok. Then, let’s not get caught” says Thelma and, with tearing eyes, they hold hands as Louise steps on the gas pedal.
A few film critics, including Pauline Kael, loved this “doomsday finish,” in which “the women punish men by killing themselves, they are heading for an all-girl heaven.” But many modern feminists see this ending as the ultimate punishment for the women’s defiant journey for emancipation. Butler presents a similar notion in her book Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life & Death (2000). She examines Antigone, Sophocles’ renowned rebel, who hanged herself after defying her uncle the King, as a feminist icon of defiance and argues that women like Antigone represent how feminist behavior is loaded with risk. Like Butler’s Antigone, Thelma’s and Louise’s deaths are a critique on how social norms determine which types of life are worthy and can continue to exist. Having no desire to fulfill their social roles as women, society could no longer accept them.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) also subverts stereotypes about gender and sexuality which borrows both from the comic road-trip and the emotional journey categories. The Australian comedy-drama follows two drag queens (Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce) and a transsexual woman (Terence Stamp) who set out in a large tour bus on a journey through the Australian Outback to perform at a hotel casino resort. While on the road, they meet a variety of characters. Some are accepting and kind, others abusive and violent. The movie blurs both the common road movie formulas by combining the fluidity of the characters’ sexual identities with elements from both comedy and drama. While women and humor rarely go together in road-movies, transsexualism allows the movie to portray a journey that is funny and entertaining but at the same time, dark and emotional.