Thelma & Louise

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Thelma & Louise
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRidley Scott
Written byCallie Khouri
Produced by
  • Ridley Scott
  • Mimi Polk Gitlin
Starring
CinematographyAdrian Biddle
Edited byThom Noble
Music byHans Zimmer
Production
companies
Distributed byMGM-Pathé Communications
Release dates
  • May 20, 1991 (1991-05-20) (Cannes)
  • May 24, 1991 (1991-05-24) (United States)
Running time
129 minutes
CountryUnited States[1]
LanguageEnglish
Budget$16.5 million[2]
Box office$45.4 million[2]

Thelma & Louise is a 1991 American film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Callie Khouri with elements of multiple genres which has been described as a drama, adventure or road movie[1] with elements of a romantic comedy.[3]

The film stars Susan Sarandon as Louise and Geena Davis as Thelma, two friends who embark on a road trip that ends up in unforeseen circumstances. Filming took place in California and Utah from June to August 1990. The supporting cast includes Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, and a then-unknown Brad Pitt in one of his first major film roles.

Thelma & Louise premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 1991, before being released theatrically in the United States on May 24. It later became a critical and commercial success, receiving six Academy Award nominations and winning for Best Original Screenplay. Scott was nominated for Best Director, and both Sarandon and Davis were nominated for Best Actress. To date, this is the most recent film to have two actors nominated in the same category for either Best Actor or Best Actress. It influenced other films and artistic works and became a landmark of feminist film.

In 2006, the American Film Institute ranked the film 78th on its list of most inspiring films. In 2016, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Plot[edit]

Two friends, Thelma Dickinson and Louise Sawyer, set out for a weekend vacation at a fishing cabin in the mountains to take a break from their dreary lives in Arkansas. Thelma, a housewife, is married to disrespectful and controlling carpet salesman Darryl, while sharp-tongued Louise works as a waitress in a diner and is dating easygoing musician Jimmy, who is on the road most of the time.

On the way, they stop at a roadhouse bar, where Thelma dances with a flirtatious stranger, Harlan Puckett. He takes her to the parking lot and tries to rape her until Louise intervenes and threatens to shoot him. As the women walk away, Harlan yells he should've continued the rape, causing Louise to fatally shoot him in a fit of rage. The two women immediately drive off.

At a motel they discuss how to handle the situation. Thelma wants to go to the police, but Louise fears that no one will believe a claim of attempted rape as Thelma was drinking and dancing with Harlan, in addition to having no evidence of the rape; they would be facing a murder charge. They decide to flee to Mexico, but Louise demands they travel there without going through Texas, as something happened to her there several years earlier which she refuses to reveal.

Heading west, they come across an attractive young drifter, J.D., to whom Thelma takes a liking. Louise contacts Jimmy, asking him to wire her life savings to her. He surprises her by delivering the money in person, and they spend the night together. Jimmy proposes to Louise, but she refuses. At a motel, J.D. talks his way into Thelma's room and they sleep together. She learns he is a convicted armed-robber who has violated the terms of his parole. The following morning, the women discover J.D. has stolen Louise's savings and fled. Louise is distraught, so a guilty Thelma takes charge and later robs a nearby convenience store using tactics she learned from J.D.

Meanwhile, the FBI closes in on the duo after witnesses at the bar identify Louise's 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible. Led by Arkansas State Police Investigator Hal Slocumb, the police tap into the phone line at Darryl's house. He sympathizes with the pair's situation, and understands why they did not report Harlan's killing. During a few brief phone conversations with Louise, Hal expresses his concerns and tells her he knows what happened to her in Texas, but is unsuccessful in persuading her to surrender.

Thelma tells Louise she will not go back to Darryl and asks her friend if she intends to cut a deal with police so she can return to Jimmy. Louise rejects the notion of betraying her friend and promises Thelma they will keep going together. While back on the road, Thelma recalls the incident with Harlan and tries to ask Louise if something similar happened to her in Texas. Louise responds angrily and tells Thelma to never bring it up again.

Later, they are pulled over by a New Mexico state trooper for speeding. Knowing he will soon discover they are wanted for murder and armed robbery, Thelma holds him at gunpoint and locks him in the trunk of his police car. Driving further west, they encounter a foul-mouthed truck driver who repeatedly makes obscene gestures at them. They pull over and demand an apology from him; when he refuses, they fire at his fuel tanker, causing it to explode. The women leave him stranded in the desert with the wreckage.

Thelma and Louise are finally cornered by the authorities only a hundred yards from the edge of the Grand Canyon. Hal arrives on the scene, but the women refuse his last attempt to talk them into surrendering. Rather than be captured, Thelma proposes that they "keep going". Louise asks Thelma if she is certain, and Thelma says yes. They kiss and then hold hands. Louise steps on the gas and, as Hal desperately pursues them on foot, they accelerate over the cliff to their deaths.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

The idea for Thelma & Louise originated in the spring of 1988 when Callie Khouri, then a music video producer, was driving home from work to her apartment in Santa Monica. She spent the following six months working on her first screenplay, which was noted to have drawn inspiration from her own experience as well as her friendship with country music singer Pam Tillis.[4] She had intended it to be a low-budget independent film, directed by herself and produced by fellow music video producer Amanda Temple (wife of English filmmaker Julien Temple).[4]

After shopping the project around and finding no takers, Temple showed the script to her friend Mimi Polk Gitlin, who ran Ridley Scott's Percy Main Productions (later Scott Free Productions). Gitlin in turn showed the script to Scott, who expressed great enthusiasm for the project. He agreed to produce the film and bought the film rights for $500,000. Pathé Entertainment, then led by Scott's friend and collaborator Alan Ladd Jr., came on board as a co-producer and financier.[4]

Scott considered four people for the role of director, all of whom turned down the opportunity. Per Gitlin's recollection, three of the candidates were Bob Rafelson, Kevin Reynolds and Richard Donner. Scott was reluctant to direct the film himself but eventually took on the role, having been persuaded by Michelle Pfeiffer.[4]

Casting[edit]

Michelle Pfeiffer and Jodie Foster were originally chosen for the leads; both accepted their roles with enthusiasm. As pre-production of the film dragged on, the two eventually dropped out, with Pfeiffer going on to star in Love Field and Foster in The Silence of the Lambs. Pfeiffer would later admit that passing on the film still kills her.[5] Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn then offered to play the leads, but Streep later dropped out due to scheduling conflicts while Hawn was not considered right for the part (Hawn and Streep portrayed the lead duo a year later in Death Becomes Her). Geena Davis (who had been vigorously pursuing the lead role for nearly a year) and Susan Sarandon were ultimately chosen. The two took extensive driving and shooting lessons in preparation for their roles.[4]

Scott personally convinced Harvey Keitel to take on the role of Hal, the sympathetic Arkansas detective. The two had previously collaborated in Scott's feature directorial debut, the 1977 film The Duellists. Davis recommended her ex-boyfriend Christopher McDonald for the role of Darryl, Thelma's controlling husband. Scott wanted Michael Madsen for Harlan, Thelma's would-be rapist, but Madsen was unwilling; he eventually won the role of Jimmy, Louise's boyfriend. Brad Pitt auditioned for the hustler J.D.; however Scott thought he was "too young" for the role so they moved on, the part went to Billy Baldwin. Pitt eventually secured the role after both Baldwin and his replacement dropped out.[4][6] George Clooney,[7] Robert Downey Jr.,[8] Mark Ruffalo,[6] Grant Show,[8] John Mellencamp,[9] Dylan McDermott,[6] James LeGros,[6] and Dermot Mulroney[6] were also considered for the role of J.D. Davis did test scenes with Clooney, Show, Ruffalo and Pitt; her advice to the directors was to choose Pitt.[10]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography for Thelma & Louise began on June 11, 1990, and concluded on August 31, 1990.[1] Although the setting for the film is a fictional route between Arkansas and the Grand Canyon, it was filmed almost entirely in the states of California and Utah. The primary filming locations were rural areas around Bakersfield, California and Moab, Utah. The Grand Canyon scenes were filmed just south of Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah.[11] Parts of the film were also shot at Shafer Overlook, Monument Valley, La Sal Mountains, La Sal Junction, Cisco, Old Valley City Reservoir, Thompson Springs, Arches National Park, and Crescent Junction in Utah.[12] Of filming his love scenes with Davis, Pitt said that it was awkward being naked with everybody standing.[6]

Soundtrack[edit]

Pete Haycock on slide guitar contributed to Thunderbird, the theme music for the film.[13] In addition to Glenn Frey's "Part of Me, Part of You", which became the film's primary theme song, the soundtrack included songs performed by Chris Whitley ("Kick The Stones"), Martha Reeves ("Wild Night" written by Van Morrison), Toni Childs ("House Of Hope"), Marianne Faithfull ("Ballad of Lucy Jordan" written by Shel Silverstein), Charlie Sexton ("Badlands"), Grayson Hugh ("I Can't Untie You From Me"), B.B. King ("Better Not Look Down" written by Joe Sample & Will Jennings), Michael McDonald ("No Lookin' Back"), The Temptations ("The Way You Do the Things You Do" written by Smokey Robinson & Bobby Rogers), and Johnny Nash ("I Can See Clearly Now").[14][15]

Release[edit]

Thelma & Louise was screened out of competition as the closing film at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.[16] Theatrical release was delayed due to financial turmoil at MGM-Pathé.[17] The film eventually opened in American theaters on May 24, 1991[1] and was a box office success, grossing $45 million within the country.[18]

In February 2023, The Criterion Collection announced the film would be joining the collection in May that year.[19]

Reception[edit]

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis both received accolades for their performances, including nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The film received critical acclaim. Janet Maslin of The New York Times had only praise for the film in her review:

Mr. Scott's Thelma and Louise, with a sparkling screenplay by the first-time writer Callie Khouri, is a surprise on this and many other scores. It reveals the previously untapped talent of Mr. Scott (best known for majestically moody action films like Alien, Blade Runner and Black Rain) for exuberant comedy, and for vibrant American imagery, notwithstanding his English roots. It reimagines the buddy film with such freshness and vigor that the genre seems positively new. It discovers unexpected resources in both its stars, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, who are perfectly teamed as the spirited and original title characters.[20]

Roger Ebert also praised the film, writing "What sets 'Thelma & Louise' aside from the great central tradition of the road picture -- a tradition roomy enough to accommodate 'Easy Rider,' 'Bonnie and Clyde,' 'Badlands,' 'Midnight Run' and 'Rain Man' -- is that the heroes are women this time: Working-class girlfriends from a small Arkansas town, one a waitress, the other a housewife, both probably ready to describe themselves as utterly ordinary, both containing unexpected resources."[21] He added, "This film shows a great sympathy for human comedy", and "Sarandon and Davis find in Callie Khouri's script the materials for two plausible, convincing, lovable characters. And as actors they work together like a high-wire team, walking across even the most hazardous scenes without putting a foot wrong."[21] However, Ebert deducted half a star from his four-star review on the basis of "the last shot before the titles begin. It's a freeze frame that fades to white, which is fine, except it does so with unseemly haste .... It's unsettling to get involved in a movie that takes 128 minutes to bring you to a payoff that the filmmakers seem to fear."[21]

The film also received harsh criticism from those who thought it was biased against men and that its depictions of men were unfairly negative.[22][23][24][25] In response to these criticisms, Maslin and Khouri claimed that Thelma & Louise was being subjected to a double standard, as unethical behavior in male-driven road movies had not provoked a similar level of backlash.[26][27][1] Maslin argued that viewers were simply offended at how "men in this story don’t really matter…They are treated as figures in the landscape through which these characters pass, and as such they are essentially powerless. For male characters, perhaps, this is a novelty, but women in road movies have always been treated in precisely the same way."[26] In response to claims that the film had no sympathetic male characters, Khouri pointed to the character of Hal Slocumb, the Arkansas detective who shows empathy for Thelma and Louise’s situation. Khouri said that Hal represents "the moral sense of the audience".[27] She also said she wrote the script in "a conscious effort to counter" Hollywood's tendency to portray women as "bimbos, whores and nagging wives."[27] Khouri added, "If [critics are] feeling threatened, [they're] identifying with the wrong character."[27]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 86% based on 147 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Simultaneously funny, heartbreaking, and peppered with action, Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise is a potent, well-acted road movie that transcends the feminist message at its core."[28] On Metacritic, the film received a score of 88 based on 12 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[29]

The film placed second to The Silence of the Lambs as the best film of 1991 in a poll of 81 critics.[30]

Accolades[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Geena Davis Won
Best Original Screenplay Callie Khouri Won
Academy Awards[31] Best Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Callie Khouri Won
Best Cinematography Adrian Biddle Nominated
Best Film Editing Thom Noble Nominated
Australian Film Institute Awards[32] Best Foreign Film Mimi Polk Gitlin and Ridley Scott Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Motion Picture Nominated
Best Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Callie Khouri Won
Best Cinematography Adrian Biddle Nominated
Best Film Editing Thom Noble Nominated
Best Cast Ensemble Nominated
Best Stunt Ensemble Nominated
Bodil Awards[33] Best Non-European Film Ridley Scott Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[34] Best Actress Geena Davis Won
British Academy Film Awards[35] Best Film Mimi Polk Gitlin and Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Direction Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Screenplay – Original Callie Khouri Nominated
Best Cinematography Adrian Biddle Nominated
Best Editing Thom Noble Nominated
Best Original Film Score Hans Zimmer Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers[36] Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film Adrian Biddle Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[37] Best Film Nominated
Best Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Screenplay Callie Khouri Nominated
Most Promising Actor Brad Pitt Nominated
César Awards[38] Best Foreign Film Ridley Scott Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Actress Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Screenplay Callie Khouri Won
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Foreign Actress Geena Davis Won[a]
Susan Sarandon Won[b]
Directors Guild of America Awards[39] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Ridley Scott Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[40] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Callie Khouri Won
London Film Critics Circle Awards[41] Film of the Year Won
Director of the Year Ridley Scott Won
Actress of the Year Susan Sarandon (also for White Palace) Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[42] Best Actress Geena Davis Nominated
MTV Movie Awards[43] Best Female Performance Nominated
Best On-Screen Duo Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon Nominated
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Female Dubbing Rossella Izzo (for dubbing Susan Sarandon) Won
National Board of Review Awards[44] Top Ten Films 4th Place
Best Actress Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon Won
National Film Preservation Board[45] National Film Registry Inducted
National Society of Film Critics Awards[46] Best Actress Susan Sarandon 3rd Place
Best Supporting Actor Harvey Keitel (also for Bugsy and Mortal Thoughts) Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[47] Best Actress Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon Runner-up
Best Screenplay Callie Khouri Nominated
Online Film & Television Association Awards[48] Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Won
PEN Center USA West Literary Awards[49] Screenplay Callie Khouri Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Actress Susan Sarandon Nominated
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 3rd Place
Valladolid International Film Festival[1] Golden Spike Ridley Scott Won[c]
Best Film (Audience Award) Won
Writers Guild of America Awards[50] Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Callie Khouri Won

American Film Institute

The British Film Institute published a book about the film in 2000[54] as part of a Modern Classics series. On the Writers Guild of America Award's list of 101 best screenplays, it made No. 72.[55]

Legacy[edit]

The final scene, where the title characters embrace before committing suicide by driving off a cliff, has become iconic.[56][1] Numerous homages and parodies of the scene have appeared, including alternate film endings, cartoon parodies,[57] video game "Easter eggs",[58] and as a tragic ending to television series, music videos,[59] and commercials.[60][61] After the film's release, there were reports of a few incidents where people appeared to copycat Thelma and Louise's suicides by driving off the edge of the Grand Canyon.[62]

After watching the film, singer-songwriter Tori Amos wrote "Me and a Gun", the story of her rape several years earlier.[63][64]

Feminism[edit]

Many critics and writers have remarked on the strong feminist overtones of Thelma & Louise. Film critic B. Ruby Rich praises the film as an uncompromising validation of women's experiences,[65] while Kenneth Turan calls it a "neo-feminist road movie".[66] Jessica Enevold argues that the film constitutes "an attack on conventional patterns of chauvinist male behavior toward females". In addition, it "exposes the traditional stereotyping of male–female relationships" while rescripting the typical gender roles of the road movie genre.[67]

In her review for the Los Angeles Times, film critic Sheila Benson objected to the characterization of the film as feminist, arguing that it is more preoccupied with revenge and violence than feminist values.[68]

In an article commemorating the film's 20th anniversary in 2011, Raina Lipsitz of The Atlantic called it "the last great film about women" and said that it heralded the achievements of women that caused 1992 to become "the year of the woman".[69] However, she also said that women-themed films have since been losing ground.[69]

Stage adaptation[edit]

In early 2021, it was announced that Khouri was adapting the film as a stage musical alongside Halley Feiffer, with original songs by Neko Case, and Trip Cullman attached to direct.[70] In January 2023, a workshop reading was held starring Amanda Seyfried and Evan Rachel Wood.[71]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Tied with Susan Sarandon.
  2. ^ Tied with Geena Davis.
  3. ^ Tied with Atom Egoyan for The Adjuster.

References[edit]

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