On January 24th, 1992, Universal Movie’s “Fried Green Tomatoes” opened in 673 movie theatres across the nation. Directed by Jon Avnet, the movie was a silver screen adaptation of Fannie Flagg’s 1987 novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. While Flagg was (and still is) generally credited with writing the screenplay for the film, the director, Jon Avnet, actually composed the majority of the script.
To follow the narrative of “Fried Green Tomatoes”, one needs to understand that the movie is really the composite of two stories. Set in southern Alabama, the film vacillates between the present day (or, what was the present day in the early 90s) and the early 20th century. While visiting a member of the family at a nursing name, Evelyn Couch meets 82-year-old Ninny Threadgoode. Rather open with strangers, Ninny begins sharing with Evelyn the life of Idgie Threadgoode, a woman who grew up in Whistle Stop, a neighboring town, nearly sixty years ago. From there, the past begins to chronologically weave itself into the present, and Idgie’s world becomes just as real as Evelyn’s. From the death of her brother to train side cafes to cancer, the audience follows the cultivation of a relationship between Idgie and Ruth Jamison. As Evelyn learns more about these women’s lives, she is inspired to take charge of her own and concurrently develops a profound friendship with Ninny, the present-day Idgie.
Marketed as a tale of friendship and how it can transcend across time to unite mere strangers, the film (to this day) seems to be largely written off by the public as innocuous in content and significance. Anyone with a keen eye, however, can immediately recognize that Ruth and Idgie’s relationship can’t fully be conceptualized by heteronormative standards of female interaction.
Sprinkled throughout the film, there are subtle interactions between Ruth and Idgie that lend themselves to suggest something more between them. These range from word choices, to tonality, to facial expression, etc. In an earlier scene where honey is retrieved and shared, Idgie’s imploration for Ruth to taste the honey and the looks they exchange almost bespeak of allegorical sexual exchange. Later, when Ruth announces she’s getting married and then pecks Idgie on the cheek, Idgie looks off in what can only be described as wounded and confused.
After she is married, Ruth quickly becomes the victim of domestic violence and the first person she turns to is Idgie. She then moves in with Idgie and the two open a café together. It is also during this time that Ruth has a child and Idgie along with another female character, Sipsey, help her raise the boy. When Frank, Ruth’s husband, shows up vowing to bring his wife and child home, he also intimidates the household with his ties to the Klan. Subsequently following these threats, Ruth asks Idgie whether she should “move on” to let Idgie settle down. Without a beat, Idgie replies that she’s “as settled as [she’d] ever hope to be”.
After Frank is killed and Idgie is on trial for his murder, Ruth is called to testify. Upon being asked why she moved in with Idgie, she replies, “Because she’s my best friend and I love her”.
From my perspective, the Ruth-Idgie dyad is best understood in Rich’s terms “lesbian continuum” and “lesbian existence”. Ruth and Idgie do many things together without or with minimal assistance from men, particularly jointly living and working together (lesbian continuum). While evidence of sexual desire between the two women might be disputable in the eyes to some, we can say with certainty that they do lead a voluntarily chosen life together where men do not dictate their movements and where they are economically independent (lesbian existence).
Drawing on the erotic, I think one could argue that Ruth and Idgie derive a sense of personal fulfillment and satisfaction from each other. Before they began spending time with each other, each woman was constricted to some degree by a sense of powerlessness; Idgie perpetually grieving for her brother and Ruth checked by scripture and the expectations of her gender role. Once they truly embraced each other, however, those personal limitations melted away and they became unwilling to allow themselves to concede to that position of vacuous living ever again. And, while Ruth did suffer at the hands of her husband for three years, I’m not sure she would have ever left if it hadn’t been for the personal agency she cultivated in her relationship with Idgie. Indeed, Ruth and Idgie are truly women-identified women.