Made over 30 years ago Ridley Scott and Callie Khouri’s Thelma & Louise feels achingly prescient in today’s social climate. A film that accurately illustrates how the patriarchy wants to box women and no matter what happens will never let them be anything other than the labels they are tainted with from an early age. This Criterion Collection release of the film is a wonderful celebration of the film itself and resonates harder now than it ever has before.
Deciding to go on a weekend away, Thelma (Geena Davis) decides against telling her controlling husband Darryl (Christopher McDonald). Louise (Susan Sarandon) meanwhile is happy to leave her waitressing job and musician boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Madsen) for dust for a couple of days. But when Thelma is attacked and nearly raped while in a bar parking lot, Louise exacts swift justice and kills the attacker. Fleeing the scene the pair find themselves pursued by sympathetic cop Hal (Harvey Keitel) but at every turn fall deeper and deeper into a life of crime, knowing the system is stacked against them anyway.
What is so striking about watching Thelma & Louise now is how at every junction they come to they choose the bad route but as a result gain independence. It is a staggering and powerful message about womens’ place in society. Khouri’s script conjures images and emotions that make you rage at the system and celebrate at watching our titular characters blossom. Even Hal, always wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt, makes incorrect assumptions of the pair that strengthen Khouri’s themes of institutional sexism. It’s a film that should be used as an essay for the #MeToo movement. It feels like an odyssey of discovering who Thelma & Louise could have been had they not been pigeonholed into playing certain roles in life.
Ridley Scott is a filmmaker not averse to female characters who buck the system. Think Alien’s Ripley or GI Jane. Here his craft is to often sit back and let both his actors and the script articulate so much. He shoots everything as a Western. Wide, sprawling, dauntingly beautiful vistas spilling out around these two characters who bask in its beauty during their metamorphosis. Thelma & Louise becoming a modern day Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid trying to outsmart and outrun the world bearing down on them. Scott’s real genius is to somehow manage to tread an impossibly thin line of making a film that is both powerfully ethereal and wildly entertaining. This is a film that is part Terrence Malick’s Badlands, metaphorical imagery bursting regularly from the screen, and part Tony Scott’s (Ridley’s brother) True Romance, a road movie with bite. The combination is sensational.
It’s one of Geena Davis’ best performances. Her Thelma going from ditzy house wife, to naive girl to fully fledged avenging angel. Her posture seems to go from hunched meek to proud warrior as the film develops.
Sarandon meanwhile is achingly brilliant. It’s her emotional turmoil that brings so much investment to the film. As Scott has said, this is often a mother daughter film and Sarandon is a ferocious lioness here. The midpoint scenes with Michael Madsen, a small glimpse into the life she could have had, are incredibly powerful. The most heartbreaking moment of the film is as Louise sits in the car waiting for Thelma, across from her two aging women sit in a shop blankly staring back at her, a glimpse into a future Louise knows she will never have and perhaps never wanted but still somehow devastating to both character and audience.
This Criterion release presents us with a glorious 4K restoration, Criterion being the masters or presenting restorations that never change how the original film looked but allowing the best possible presentation akin to the original cinematic experience. Throw in a plethora of commentaries, documentaries, including ones that deep-drive into Scott and Khouri’s insights into the film, and this is a release for fans and newcomers alike.
Thelma and Louise is a powerful feminist text of empowerment that’s tragic ending is all too inevitable in a society stacked against them.