Have you ever watched “Thelma and Louise”? It tells the story of two ordinary gals who lead fairly restrictive lives – Susan Sarandon’s character is a waitress, and the Geena Davis a housewife with a controlling and annoyingly egocentric husband.
The two of them decide to go on a trip together for the weekend, but at their first stop things go horribly wrong when a man tries to rape Davis and Sarandon’s character ends up shooting his scummy ass dead.
From there on out it’s a car chasing road movie. The girls decide to head for the Mexican border to escape the police. On their way there (which takes a number of days) they let go of all their preconceived ideas about who or what they are and turn into quintessential outlaw heroines of the road.
They shoot up trucks, lock people in boots, rob shops and generally just have an awesome time of it. The further they drive, the freer they become.
When the police finally corner them they decide to just keep driving – over the edge of a cliff. They do it with love, holding each other’s hands, knowing that their last week was better than the rest of their lives put together.
To me “Thelma and Louise” is a great film about this elusive thing we call freedom. In the film their freedom is simply the absence of fear, which allows them to do things they would never have considered doing before. Their worlds open up. Their identities change. They come to life.
Imprisonment seems to be a powerful way of really getting to grips with the mucky entrails of freedom:
The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote movingly about how his fellow inmates in the concentration camps reacted to being imprisoned. Some of them lost themselves completely, or went mad, whilst others pulled through and even managed to laugh amongst themselves from time to time, even though torture was a part of their daily lives, and the most likely outcome for all of them was death.
They were all dealing with the same horrific circumstances, yet some were able to cope with it whilst others just collapsed under the pressure. It wasn’t the event itself, but how they were able to interpret and respond to it that put them apart.
Some, like Viktor Frankl himself, managed to create a life of meaning from the ashes of this horrific experience, not only resurrecting himself but helping countless others as well.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years during the Apartheid era on Robben Island. When he was released the whole world waited for full blown war to break out in South Africa, but it never happened.
Instead of the expected rage and hatred of the oppressed masses, Nelson Mandela came out of prison and changed a nation with his words and attitude. He had become a free man in prison, and brought a message so powerful to a nation that it changed the world. One man’s ability to set himself free changed the course of an entire nation’s existence.
Freedom is the conscious understanding that you have a choice about who and what you become, regardless of your circumstances. You choose how you respond to what life gives you. When you realise that, you take your own power back and your world becomes your own.
Freedom has little to do with money. (Ask the majority of people who’ve won the lottery, they’ll tell you all about it.) Some of the richest people in the world are the saddest and the most confined. Some of the poorest people in the world are happier and freer than most people I’ve met in big cities.
Freedom requires you to be in touch with your innate essential self, and to realise that any attachment beyond that is fleeting. Anything that you experience as being important beyond that is an illusion.
It requires letting go. It requires stripping you down to your bare essentials. It requires purification. The number one agent of freedom is death, and so freedom is always going to be preceded by great loss and mourning.
In the words of Ayn Rand, freedom is
“To ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing.”
But of all of them, I like Bentinho Massaro’s definition the best: