Thelma & Louise, 20th Anniversary Edition
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the theatrical release of Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise, a veritable classic that redefined the genre of feminist cinema (yes, that’s a genre!), but it seems less surprising when you consider that the movie was released in an era when Harvey Keitel and Michael Madsen got billing over Brad Pitt.
Now Callie Khouri’s Oscar-winning screenplay comes to life again in the 20th Anniversary Blu-ray edition. A little background for younger viewers and anyone who was in a coma during the early ‘90s: Flighty housewife Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) and headstrong working gal Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) take an innocent road trip that turns into a fatal crime spree with a distinctly anti-patriarchal tone. After these two unfortunate souls take a single stand against the system, they discover time and again that the system was never designed for them in the first place. Thelma and Louise are the quintessential underdogs, and victory for them does not amount to winning the game that’s always cast them as pawns, but writing the rules to a new game all their own — one that eschews the self-defeating morals they’ve been taught to hold dear. Their crime spree is an awakening, a realization that they can stop taking orders and make the world what they want it to be, if only for a short time. When the world catches up with them and demands they re-embrace its hypocrisy, they are faced with the obvious reality that they can no longer live in it. They have become incompatible with a society that would alienate them so systematically and so cruelly.
Their primary salvation is their friendship. While Thelma and Louise see eye-to-eye on very little, they experience an unconditional love that makes their shared experience seem less impulsive and more transcendent. After getting to know them through the trials they encounter, which involve attempted rape, murder, robbery, harassment, various instances of sexism, and just downright bad luck, the viewer identifies with the purity of their plight and the undeniable rationality of their actions. Much to the film’s credit, however, it resists turning either character into a victim, partly by endowing both Thelma and Louise with a sense of humor and an appreciation for absurdity. This flippant irreverence — this “f-you” to the system — helps make Thelma & Louise a great movie of its time. It may take our heroines awhile, but eventually they take control of their own destinies and wouldn’t have their fugitive status any other way. “I just feel like I got a knack for this,” Thelma famously states after she and Louise have escaped a suspicious police officer by shooting out his radio and locking him in his trunk. “I believe you do,” Louise responds thoughtfully.
Clichés and misconceptions aside, Thelma & Louise has withstood the test of time for a very simple reason: it is excellently written, directed, edited, and acted. Sarandon and Davis make every moment of the characters’ narrative not only believable but compelling. They never show the slightest bit of over- or underacting, never betray a tendency to break with character. They completely embody these endearing, multi-dimensional ladies — Davis as the benighted Thelma who struggles with being too trusting, and Sarandon as the tough-as-nails leader who steadfastly refuses to crack. They are excellently backed up by Keitel and Madsen, though Thelma & Louise is perhaps best known for its “discovery” of Brad Pitt, whose J.D., a smooth-talking, back-stabbing cowboy, stole each scene. Scott would work with him again, this time as producer, 16 years later on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
In addition to re-introducing us to the fast-paced, yet thoughtful, world of two women embarking upon selfhood — albeit in an unconventional way — this Blu-ray offers all the behind-the-scenes extras we always wondered about, including an extended ending to the movie that Scott almost preferred to the theatrical one, as he reveals in its commentary. The alternate ending was rejected by test audiences as too explicit. Scott, Khouri, Davis, and Sarandon also chime in with audio commentaries on the entire film in two playback options. The Blu-ray offers ample deleted and extended scenes, almost all of which were justifiably cut when you think about it, revealing the quality of the film’s editing. There are multi-angle storyboards, which demonstrate how much heart the actors really brought to the original vision. There’s a music video of Glenn Frey’s song, “Part of You, Part of Me,” which is featured in the movie, and you can “Bookmark” any scene from the film you want during playback for easy access. Of course, no Blu-ray extras section would be complete without a feature-long “making of” sequence, here entitled, Thelma & Louise: The Last Journey, which tracks the film from conception to completion and thoroughly represents the cast, producers, director, and writers in its scope, making it all the more obvious that Thelma & Louise’s 20th Anniversary edition on Blu-ray is definitely one for the collection.