The Academy celebrated the 20th anniversary of Thelma & Louise August 25th by screening a splendid new print of the iconic Ridley Scott movie that turned the traditional buddy movie on its head. I moderated a Q & A with Geena Davis, Callie Khouri and producer Mimi Polk Gitlin afterwards; highlights can be found here. Mainly, they admitted that things have not changed a whole lot for women in Hollywood. (Trailer is below.)
Rookie screenwriter Khouri won an Oscar for this story, which she first dreamed up sitting in a car outside her house, asking the question: what would make a woman leave her conventional life forever? Her story of two Southern women (Davis and Susan Sarandon) who escape their domestic traps and begin a whirlwind crime spree was a hugely entertaining mix of screwball comedy, road movie, buddy movie, social commentary and outlaw cinema. In the summer of 1991, everyone was talking about Thelma & Louise, which cost $17.5 million and made more than $40 million at the box office, earning rave reviews for eventual Oscar nominees Davis and Sarandon, Khouri and Scott, who directed an ensemble of great performances, including breakout Brad Pitt.
But during the post-Reagan and Thatcher era, controversy over the film’s violence against men put Davis and Sarandon on the cover of Time with the headline: “Why Thelma & Louise Strikes a Nerve.” Some critics were tough, asking about the film’s moral message, calling it a recruiting tool for the NRA, and said it justified armed robbery and manslaughter. Some called it sexist, others said it was toxic feminism, while others said it betrayed feminism altogether.
Manohla Dargis wrote that the film “created a paradigm of female friendship produced out of their wilful refusal of the male world and its laws. No matter where their trip finally ends, Thelma and Louise have reinvented sisterhood for the American screen.”
Scott was able to get audience to recognize aspects of themselves; he brought a street level naturalism as well as broad comedy to the picture, which he shot with two cameras on mostly California locations, as well as Utah, with five 1966 Thunderbirds, three of which went over that mystical cliff. Arguing about the ending (which Pol said was protected in the contract with Warner Bros.) also took up a lot of time in 1991.
Scott is known for strong women in his films, from Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien to Darryl Hannah’s Pris in Blade Runner. He had no problem with portraying honestly what these women had to put up with from men–while many other directors wanted to rewrite the women and the ending. That’s why Scott wound up directing. “Fuck you all,” he told one writer. “I’ll do it myself.”