‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ builds compelling narratives that easily captivate the audience, submerging them in the lives of the women who helm the 1991 drama film. The story, possessing a dual timeline of sorts, follows Evelyn, a housewife displeased with the way her life has turned out. As such, after meeting an old woman, Ninny Threadgoode, Evelyn finds herself fascinated by the latter’s tales of the past. The film’s second timeline revolves around the subjects of Ninny’s stories, Idgie and Ruth, who owned a cafe in Whistle Stop together. As both narratives unfold, they bring equally thrilling accounts of different women’s lives, with Idgie’s story particularly capturing the audience’s curiosity. Consequently, the stories must have left the viewers with a few questions by the time they reach their natural ends. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Fried Green Tomatoes Plot Synopsis
The story starts with Evelyn Couch’s visit to the nursing home near Whistle Stop to meet with her husband’s aunt, Vesta. Nevertheless, Vesta isn’t a fan of Evelyn’s and drives her out of the room, an occurrence the latter is all too used to. As a result, Evelyn ends up hanging awkwardly within the establishment, catching 82-year-old Ninny’s eye. Ninny is a talkative woman who instantly takes a liking to Evelyn and begins telling her a story about people she knew in the 1920s. Evelyn, whose marriage with Ed has been dwindling for a while despite her best efforts, takes immediate interest in the tale. Therefore, she visits the nursing home regularly for Ninny to pick up her story about Idgie Threadgoode with every visit.
As a child growing up in the Whistle Stop, Idgie maintains her wild spirit, known for her stubborn attitude that only her older brother, Buddy, could talk her out of. However, once, during their older sister’s wedding, Buddy got in an accident on the train tracks and lost his life. Ruth, Buddy’s girlfriend, helplessly watched the accident unfold alongside Idgie, an experience that changed both girls. In the following years, Idgie grows up to be a rebellious young woman with a tomboyish persona, favoring gambling and drinking over church sermons.
Consequently, Idgie’s mother’s concern grows, and she requests Ruth, who leads youth Bible studies, to intervene as a good influence over her daughter. Although at first Idgie is weary of the woman’s presence, the two eventually grow close. Idgie charms Ruth just as her brother had all those years ago through nighttime Robin Hood-esque adventures, honey-harvesting picnics, and surprise birthday parties. Nevertheless, as the summer ends, Ruth has to return to her old life and prepare for her upcoming wedding to Frank Bennett.
Even though Ruth invites Idgie to her wedding, the younger woman skips it, cutting all communication with the former. Still, her resolve to never see Ruth again melts, leading her to the other woman’s house only to learn that Ruth is in an abusive marriage. As a result, once Ruth discovers that she’s pregnant, she writes to Idgie, bringing the other woman to her doorstep to rescue her from Frank’s violence. Furthermore, she threatens to kill Frank should he ever try to hurt Ruth again.
Consequently, after her return to Whistle Stop, Ruth opens a cafe with Idgie, and the two women raise her son, Buddy Jr., together. The Whistle Stop Cafe becomes the heart of the town but brings unwanted attention from the KKK after they learn about the cafe’s policy of serving people regardless of their race. Therefore, one night, the racist group arrives in town to attack Big George, Idgie’s close friend. Furthermore, Frank Bennett, also a KKK member, attempts to take his son from Ruth.
Although Frank ultimately fails, and the town sheriff, Grady, sends the group away, the incident puts Ruth on edge despite Idgie’s reassurances. As it would turn out, Ruth’s anxieties are well-placed because the next time Frank comes for Buddy, neither woman is around to save him. Yet, somehow, Buddy remains safe, and Frank goes missing. As such, Sheriff Curtis Smoote comes into town following up on Frank’s disappearance, suspecting Idgie’s involvement.
Nevertheless, there isn’t a crime since there isn’t a body. Thus, Idgie and Ruth continue to build their life together in the years to come, watching Buddy grow up into a young child. Still, a few years later, Smoote finds Frank’s car in the river, leading to Idgie and Big George’s arrest for trial.
Did Idgie Kill Frank Bennett?
Early on in Idgie’s introduction to the story, the narrative foretells her arrest for Frank’s murder. Therefore, she doesn’t do herself any favors in the audience’s eyes after threatening to kill the man to his face. Still, considering Frank’s violent disposition, once manifesting as the man kicking Ruth down the stairs, he leaves little sympathy for himself. Nevertheless, Smoote doesn’t hold the same notion and pursues Idgie’s arrest with dogged dedication.
Yet, during the trial, Smoote ends up having little to no case to show for his claims. Despite the car’s discovery, Frank’s body has still not been found. Furthermore, Idgie and Big George, profiled into a suspect for his race and close friendship with the woman, both have alibis. The case further tips in their favor after Ruth convinces a Reverand to lie on the stand for their sake by swearing on a fake Bible. Thus, Idgie and Big George win their trial, and Frank’s death gets written off as an accidental death.
Initially, Ninny’s recount of Idgie’s story to Evelyn ends with the same conclusion, providing no firm answer about Frank’s mysterious death. As such, it isn’t until Ninny leaves the nursing home returning to her Whistle Stop house that Evelyn and the audience find the truth. Unbeknownst to Ninny, her house has actually been demolished. For the same reason, the older woman is shaken up when Evelyn finds her.
Nevertheless, once Evelyn asks her to move into her house and live with her and her husband, Ninny realizes the depth of their friendship and reveals the final piece of the puzzle. Ninny had a friend in the nursing home who was Big George’s aunt. As a result, Ninny knew the man’s mother, Sipsey, who worked for Idgie. From her, Ninny discovered that on the second night that Frank came to kidnap Buddy, one of the cafe’s regular customers, Smokey, attempted to stop him. However, once his efforts faltered, Sipsey arrived and killed Frank in self-defense.
Nonetheless, given the time’s unjust law against Black people, everyone, including Idgie, knew Sipsey would receive a prison sentence or worse for Frank’s death without any arguments. For the same reason, they decided to cover up his death by getting rid of his car and barbequing his body as cafe meat the next day. Although they attempt to discourage regulars from eating the meat that day, no one speaks up when Smoote, snooping into Frank’s murder, orders BBQ.
What Happens to Idgie and Ruth?
After Idgie gets cleared as a suspect in Frank’s murder, she returns to her life with Ruth. Although the film doesn’t make their romantic relationship explicit, there are enough context clues to decipher that the two women live together and raise Buddy Jr. in domestic bliss. Likewise, their business at the cafe remains steady, providing delicious food for their community.
Nonetheless, trouble knocks on the pair’s door soon. Ruth’s health starts declining, and she receives a cancer diagnosis, leaving her with only a few weeks to survive. As her death looms above the family’s head, Idgie turns to faith and prays to God for her closest companion’s health.
In the end, Ruth asks Idgie to look after Buddy’s upbringing, ensuring he graduates from college. Furthermore, she asks for the boy to be kept away from the funeral, deeming him too young for such a grim event. Buddy, though too young to properly comprehend the situation yet, realizes the gravity of it. Nevertheless, just as Buddy Sr. was good at reaching Idgie in her childhood, the woman remains a stagnant and reliable parental figure in the boy’s life.
Ultimately, Ruth dies while Idgie regales an infamous trademark Threadgoode tall tale about a flock of ducks who flew away with a frozen lake. As the tale comes to an end, so does Ruth’s life and Idgie’s fragile emotions. Although Ruth had asked Idgie not to grieve over her too much and find someone to settle down with, Idgie hadn’t lied when she told her their current family was “settled down” as the woman will ever get. Consequently, Idgie goes on to live her life as the same free spirit but forever changed. Meanwhile, their story, to those who knew it, became a source of inspiration. Evelyn herself learns life’s great lessons and changes her life after hearing about the women from Ninny in the nursing home.
Are Ninny and Idgie The Same Person?
Throughout the film, the narrative drops many hints that Ninny may be the same person. For starters, Ninny has a suspiciously in-depth memory of the events, even though her character is never present or even mentioned in the flashbacks. Furthermore, once her room in the nursing home is revealed, there are multiple photos of Ruth and her family pinned to walls and framed on surfaces. In fact, a lone photograph of the woman resides on Ninny’s bedside table, a strangely intimate honor to bestow upon Ruth, who should virtually be a stranger to Ninny.
If Ninny’s story is to be believed, she is Idgie’s sister-in-law, who married one of the latter’s brothers. Since she’s never present in her recounts, we can assume she heard the story from word-of-mouth, similar to how she knew about Frank’s death. As such, Ruth, Idgie’s life partner, would have been too distant of a relation for Ninny to be emotionally attached to. Furthermore, despite claims of being a widow, the room peculiarly holds no image of Idgie’s brother, Cleo.
The last seemingly nail-in-the-coffin evidence comes from the fact that upon their visit to Whistle Stop town, Ninny points out to Ruth’s grave that holds a freshly inked note by Idgie alongside a bottle of honey. Although the woman is nowhere to be seen, Ninny insists Idgie’s still alive and well, trading Honey. The emotionally ripe scene is accompanied by a knowing look shared between Evelyn and Ninny, which hints that Evelyn has figured out Ninny is the real Idgie.
Therefore, in one interpretation of the film, Ninny can be read as Idgie, who uses an alias to tell her life story to her new friend in a nursing home. However, to do so, one would have to ignore the equally prevalent hints against the theory. During their meetings, Ninny tells Evelyn about her son, Albert, who was born with a condition that shortened his lifespan. Knowing Idgie, the audience already knows the woman’s actual son with Ruth, Buddy, has no such condition. The boy lost his hand at a young age due to an accident, but the same wouldn’t have a negative effect on his lifespan.
Thus, the detail of a fake dead son seems like an unnecessary tale to spin for the sake of a lie. Likewise, the comments Ninny makes about having a crush on Buddy Sr. and marrying Cleo add another instance of unnecessary details. Lastly, the staff around the nursing home seem to have no problem asserting Ninny’s identity as Ninny rather than Idgie or Imogen. Thus, the theory that Ninny is Idgie can be disproved just as easily.
The reason behind this is that in the novel that inspired the film, Ninny and Idgie are clearly portrayed as separate characters without any doubt otherwise. However, the film departs from the book in some places, particularly its depiction of Ninny. As such, it would seem that while Ninny and Idgie are not the same characters in the books, the film leaves enough clues to encourage the audience to believe otherwise.
By doing so, the film adds a distinct element to its narrative, distinguishing itself from its literary counterpart. Moreover, the idea that Ninny is actually Idgie adds a nuanced layer to the film’s narrative. Ultimately, in the film, it’s up to the viewers to interpret the connection between Ninny and Idgie’s characters according to their wishes.