In the 20 years since I first saw Thelma & Louise during its original theatrical run, there is one scene that I always return to. It's a very short sequence, it could almost be dismissed as throwaway connective tissue, but in my mind, it speaks strongly to the soul of Ridley Scott and Callie Khouri's road-movie western. It's during a brief pit stop, the titular fugitives have pulled off the highway to take a bathroom break and clean up. Susan Sarandon, playing Louise, washes herself in an outdoor sink and, seeing the old man who lives in this roadside shack, she goes over to him, removes all of her jewelry, and puts it in his hand. It's a silent interaction, there is no dialogue or explanation given. Yet, one can take so much away from those few frames. In one light, it is a compassionate moment. Louise is paying this man, who has likely seen some hard times judging by the lines on his face and the faraway look in his eyes, to thank him for the respite he has provided. It also proves she hasn't given herself completely to crime, she won't rob those who can't afford it. In another light, Louise is shedding her earthly connections, rejecting the material world and accepting a fate that is becoming all-too inevitable.
It's not just the best scene in an otherwise rollicking movie, it's one of Susan Sarandon's finest screen moments. It's the actress at her most raw. She is vulnerable and sweet and, a rare thing for us to see in big-budget Hollywood movies, at rest. It's an oasis of peace in the middle of a movie where a bullet from a pistol can blow up an oil tanker.
And yes, it really has been two decades since Thelma & Louise was a well-deserved big hit at the box office. The film is a perennial now, something we have become comfortable with, even though the dimwits who run the American film industry are still scared of the idea of kick-ass women headlining their own kick-ass movies. Thelma & Louise casts the dream team of Geena Davis as Thelma, an Arkansas housewife kept underheel by her domineering jerkwad husband, and Susan Sarandon as Louise, a bold-as-brass waitress who has seen her fair share of disappointments.
The story begins as the girls set out for a weekend at a cabin in the mountains. Thelma decides not to get her husband's permission, he's not going to give it anyway. (Darryl is played by Happy Gilmore's Christopher McDonald, who has made what is probably a pretty fun career out of playing energetic sleazeballs.) For her, this three-day vacation is all about letting go and embracing life, to finally unleash everything that is inside her. For Louise, it's somewhat the opposite, though similar. The trip will become her opportunity to bury the past, to get over old mistakes, and accept the disappointments life has handed her.
The journey takes an unintended detour after an unscheduled bar stop. Thelma has too much to drink, and a local scumbucket (Timothy Carhart) tries to take advantage. Louise steps in, one thing leads to another, and Louise shoots the rapist. Convinced that no one will believe their story, the ladies hit the road. A series of mishaps and crimes follow, including running across a thieving drifter (Brad Pitt in a breakout role) and getting a sympathetic cop (Harvey Keitel) on their tail. Thelma & Louise is essentially a modern take on an outlaw western, two anti-heroes on the run like a feminist Butch and Sundance. With each obstacle they overcome, with each new "bad deed," they come into their own. By the end, they are seasoned gunslingers and as gutsy as any frontiersmen in a leather duster and ten-gallon hat ever was.
Thelma & Louise represents the last of vintage Ridley Scott for me. While the director has had some good movies since--usually his "smaller" pictures, such as Black Hawk Down and Matchstick Men--his run in the last twenty years never quite achieved the immediacy or creativity that made his 1980s work so exciting. His bloated Christopher Columbus biopic, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, was to follow a year later, and its failure inspired a four-year gap that would eventually be broken by the little-seen White Squall. His box office successes since have tended to be overdone historical epics or convoluted modern thrillers marred by an unyielding visual style. Thelma & Louise stands in direct opposition to this. The storytelling is lithe, and the bright and breezy cinematography by Adrian Biddle (V for Vendetta) eventually embraces the majesty of the road picture, drinking in all the wonderful sights of the American Southwest alongside its two heroines. Maybe it's fitting that the most over-the-top scene in the movie is the explosion of that oil tanker. It's ridiculously out-of-sync with the "reality" of the rest of Thelma & Louise, yet it serves its purpose: it's the signal flare that the ladies are leaving everything about their safe lives back in Arkansas. Maybe it's also Ridley Scott's demolition of all that came before, a last moment of whimsy before he hunkered down for the more calculated career that was to come.
Of course, if we're going to push that kind of meaning onto Thelma & Louise, then it might be just as fitting to suggest that the ending of the movie, which I guess some would consider controversial, is more of Scott's final leap into the creative unknown. I think it's a rather perfect ending to the film, I can't imagine why anyone would be upset (the extended version that's been out on its various digital video releases would have really given detractors something to crow about). Again, Butch and Sundance are a pretty obvious comparison, but I'd like to toss out a different one: Grease. At the end of the musical, Danny and Sandy take flight in their convertible, presumably on their way to some kind of bliss in cinema heaven. Given where Scott ultimately chose to fade out in this leap, there is no reason not to take it as a Kierkegaardian metaphor. Thelma and Louise never land, they soar off toward immortality. The fact that there is now a 20th Anniversary Edition would certainly suggest they've achieved some level of timelessness. Thelma & Louise is still as fresh and unpretentious as it ever was, despite the fact that it seems to be on TV at least once a week. It's the kind of moviegoing vehicle that's tires will never grow threadbare.
The Thelma & Louise: 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray has a widescreen 2.35:1 transfer, AVC @ 28 MPS. The picture quality is excellent, with slightly muted colors that capture the dust of the terrain and the grime of the fugitive life quite well. Despite some minor digital enhancement, the resolution is sharp with solid tones that reveal great textures in skin and clothing, as well as making way for plenty of background detail. Night scenes look particularly strong, with good balance between the darkness and the lights of the highway. Neon and car headlights are bright and clear, including excellent renderings of reflections and glow. Though, if you really want to notice some high-rez detail, look at the spit and the vomit from the pivotal sequence outside the nightclub and after--the bodily fluids positively sparkle!
The main English soundtrack is give a 5.1 DTS-HD polish. It's a good mix, clear as a bell in all scenes, with resounding sound effects and easy to hear dialogue. My only complaint is maybe a personal preference: whenever there are songs in the soundtrack, the mix puts them in the right and left front speakers, and the dialogue is centered. This created a weird effect for me, with the music sounding separate from the movie and actually overpowering the dialogue. I noticed it less and less as Thelma & Louise wore on (and my ears adjusted), but it's particularly obvious in the opening when we meet Louise at the diner. (Also doesn't help that the songs on the soundtrack are uniformly terrible.)
Alternate audio tracks are a Spanish Dolby mix and French DTS, both in 5.1. Subtitles are in Spanish and English for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired.
In terms of bonus features, there's nothing new to see here. Fox has copied the 2003 "Special Edition" DVD exactly. Not necessarily a bad thing, the bonus section was extensive and exhaustive, and I am not sure there is that much further ground to be covered.
The materials included:
* Two audio commentaries: One with Ridley Scott, the other with Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, and screenwriter Callie Khouri
* The three-part documentary Thelma & Louise: The Last Journey - comprehensive at 47 minutes, from the start of production to release
* An original EPK from the theatrical release (5 minutes)
* Deleted and Extended Scenes, along with an Extended Ending, which has commentary by Scott
* Storyboards from the last sequence
* Theatrical trailer and television ads
* A music video by Glenn Frey
Highly Recommended. I love Thelma & Louise and have done so since it first came out. It's a road-trip movie, a western with a big car instead of horses, and Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon both give amazing performances. They give a lot of personality to the titular heroines and also have the chops to roll with the highs and the lows of Callie Khouri's script. Ridley Scott delivers a good-time movie, his last real cinematic romp before he got a little self-serious and far too commercially motivated. Thelma & Louise is one of those movies that never gets dull, and Blu-Ray provides a good excuse to watch it again.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.