Thelma & Louise is a 1991 American road movie which breaks with tradition by featuring two female leads. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Callie Khouri, the film's plot revolves around Thelma and Louise's escape from their troubled home lives. It stars Geena Davis as Thelma, and Susan Sarandon as Louise, and co-stars Harvey Keitel as a sympathetic detective trying to trace them as they go on the run and become outlaws. Michael Madsen plays Louise's boyfriend and Christopher McDonald plays Thelma's controlling husband. Brad Pitt (in his first significant role in a major Hollywood film) plays a parolee robber who befriends Thelma on the road.
Thelma & Louise became an instant critical and commercial success, becoming one of the highest grossing films of 1991, and receiving six Academy Award nominations, winning one for Best Original Screenplay. Both Sarandon and Davis were nominated for their roles in the same category.
The ending of Thelma & Louise has been blamed for several copycat suicides.
Thelma is a passive, goofy housewife, married to a controlling husband, Darryl. Louise is a single waitress who appears organized and strong, with some unnamed trauma in her past. The film follows the women as they head out in Louise's blue 1966 Thunderbird convertible for a two-day vacation of fishing in the mountains that nosedives into a nightmarish situation before they even reach their destination, but which sees them change from victims of circumstance into outlaw heroines of the road.
At the Silver Bullet, a cowboy bar and dancehall, Thelma meets a man, Harlan, with whom she dances. She gets drunk and the man attempts to rape her in the parking lot. Louise finds them and threatens to shoot Harlan if he doesn't stop, using a gun Thelma brought with her. Harlan stops, but then defiantly tells Louise that they were "just having a little fun." Louise replies that when a girl is crying like that, she's not having any fun. Harlan replies that he "should have gone ahead and fucked her " and tells Louise to "suck my cock." At that, Louise shoots and kills him. Thelma wants to go to the police right away, but Louise is worried that because Thelma was drunk and had been dancing with Harlan, no one would believe he was trying to rape her. Afraid that the authorities will prosecute her, Louise decides to run away, and Thelma follows.
Louise is determined to reach Mexico but is unwilling to do so via Texas, despite the fact that they are in Oklahoma and the fastest route to Mexico leads through Texas. It is revealed that something bad happened to Louise in Texas years ago, though Louise refuses to say exactly what it was. They flee west, and on the way they meet a handsome young man, J.D., whom Thelma immediately likes. She convinces Louise to let him hitch a ride with them. Louise, meanwhile, contacts her boyfriend, Jimmy, and asks him to send her life savings via Western Union. But when she goes to pick it up, she discovers that Jimmy has come to see her in person. They go to talk in his room, while Thelma guards the money. Thelma invites J.D. into her room; it turns out that he is a robber who has broken his parole. He and Thelma become intimate, and Thelma experiences a sexual awakening. During their time together J.D. describes how he conducted his hold-ups. Meanwhile, Jimmy asks Louise to marry him, and she refuses, as well as refusing to tell him what is going on. They spend the night together, and then he leaves after breakfast the following morning. The next day, J.D. is gone and so is all of Louise's money. Louise is distraught, and a guilty Thelma decides to take the lead while Louise is frozen with fear. She uses what J.D. taught her to rob a store. All this time the FBI has been tracking them and getting closer and closer to their trail. Det. Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) finds out what happened to Louise in Texas, and appears to be sympathetic to her predicament.
Their actions continue to spiral out of control as the two of them make their way across the country, particularly with the ever more daring Thelma, who has shed her giggly, goofy personality for a determined, aggressive, hard-drinking one. When a policeman (Jason Beghe) stops them for speeding, Thelma threatens the policeman with her gun, steals his gun, and locks him in the trunk of his cruiser. Another character they encounter is a truck driver who repeatedly makes obscene sexual gestures to them on the road. They pull over to demand an apology from him, but he refuses and they shoot his tanker truck, which explodes. In the end, with the police on their tail, Thelma and Louise are cornered near the rim of the Grand Canyon. Rather than be captured and spend the rest of their lives in jail, they make a final choice. They decide to drive the car over the cliff into the canyon, an act which is guaranteed to result in both their deaths. Before the car drives over the edge of the canyon, the two women firmly brace hands and kiss. The film ends with a freeze frame of the car in mid-air. End credits begin over a montage of their happiest moments together during the weekend.
The primary filming locations for the movie are rural areas around Bakersfield, California
and Moab, Utah
. The Grand Canyon scenes were filmed just south of Dead Horse Point State Park
Awards and honors
References in popular culture
- The Simpsons episode "Marge on the Lam" references the film and its famous ending.
- In Set It Off (1996), the character played by Jada Pinkett-Smith calls the characters played by Queen Latifah and Vivica A. Fox "Thelma and Louise."
- Various songs reference the movie: "Today 4 U" from the musical Rent, "I'm Single" by Deirdre Flint, off album The Shuffleboard Queens, "Bang" by Eve 6 on the album Horrorscope, and "Post-Modern Sleaze" by Sneaker Pimps on the album Becoming X. Singer/songwriter Tori Amos wrote Me and a Gun, the story of her rape six years earlier, which she had told no one about, after watching this movie. Two Argentine composers wrote songs related to the film. Fito Paez was inspired by the film to compose a song called "Dos dias en la vida" (Two days in life), featured on the album "El amor despues del amor" and Kevin Johansen wrote a song in English dedicated to Susan Sarandon's character in his Logo Album named Susan Surrender,"Thelma & Louise" by Horrorpops from their album Kiss Kiss Kill Kill.
- The ending of the film is parodied by Wayne and Garth in the movie Wayne's World 2, as one of the ways in which the movie could end, but they later decide to try a different ending.
- In the 1994 film The Professional with Jean Reno, Natalie Portman makes reference to the movie, saying that Thelma and Louise didn't work alone.
- In the video game The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess an important character's name is Telma and her cat's name is Louise.
- A season 8 episode of the television series Roseanne centers around Roseanne and her sister Jackie driving to an outlet mall one hour away. When they stop at a gas station Jackie hands Roseanne a pair of sunglasses saying, "Put these on, we'll look just like Thelma and Louise," followed by Jackie taking a picture of themselves in a way that mimics the movie. Later the two converse with a trucker who has many obscene signs on his truck and who says many obscene things to them. The two then manage to have his truck drive off the road into a ravine, although they did not mean to do so. The cops find them, but when they come closer to the women they see Roseanne breastfeeding and decide to leave them alone (after the two say they did not do it).
- In the episode of Family Guy, "Road to Rhode Island", Brian and Stewie sing “We’re on the Road to Rhode Island,” a parody of a song from the 1942 movie Road to Morocco. The episode itself is a parody of/homage to the “Road to” movies. In the song, there is a reference to Thelma and Louise.
- In the PV for "Driver's High", the band, L'Arc~en~Ciel, drove off a cliff at the end as they were being chased by the police.
- In an episode of Seinfeld (Season 9, Episode 11, The Dealership) as Kramer is driving with a car salesman to see how long they can drive without refueling, the salesman says, "Let's just go for it, like Thelma and Louise." To which Kramer responds, "They drove to a dealership?" "No, they drove off a cliff." And Kramer says, "You are one sick mama. I like it."
- The 1999 single "Friends Forever" by Thunderbugs (from the film Center Stage) features the lyrics "'cause we'll be/you'll see/we'll be/we'll be friends forever/we'll be/you'll see/we'll be/like Thelma and Louise"
- A parody of Thelma & Louise was featured in episode 13, season 3 of the stop-motion animation series Robot Chicken. The sketch, named 'Thelma & Louise: After the Fadeout' shows what happens to Thelma & Louise after the fadeout at the end of the film, humorously showing a crash where they become paralyzed and wild dogs attack them.
- In Scary Movie during the scene where Brenda is at the movies when everybody kills her, two people stab her saying "That's for Thelma!" "And Louise!" indicating that Brenda saw it at the theater and ruined it for everybody by spoiling the end.
- In an episode of Reba, Barbra-Jean says, if Reba doesn't survive the surgery that she will rent a Thunderbird and drive Reba's ashes to the Grand Canyon and drive them over the edge. Later in the episode, when it is revealed that Reba doesn't actually need surgery, Reba tells Barbra-Jean to go get that Thunderbird because they were going to the Grand Canyon.
- In another episode of Reba, Reba has been "stealing/borrowing" Van's car, a '66 Mustang, to cruise around in, for fun. In the ending, Reba borrows it again, while the family is in the living room, and you hear the car starts. Barbra-Jean runs towards the door, yelling; "Thelma, you're gonna need a Louise!"
- Argentine writer/singer Fito Páez wrote a song about Thelma and Louise's story entitled "Dos días en la vida" ("Two days in life"). The song is sang with another Argentine writer/singer Fabiana Cantilo.
- In the film Boys on the Side, Whoopi Goldberg references Thelma & Louise when she says, "I'm not going over a cliff for you two. So just forget it."
- The movie is parodied in Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult with Priscilla Presley and Ellen Greene spoofing the roles of Thelma and Louise.
- The movie is also parodied in an episode of French and Saunders where the duo are seen making a parody of Thelma & Louise and accidentally end up having an adventure similar to the movie, except with French bailing out of the car at the last minute and waiving and smirking gleefully at Saunders.
Thelma & Louise and Women in Hollywood by Gina Fournier (McFarland & Co., Inc. Publishers, 2007).
Thelma & Louise Live! The Cultural Afterlife of an American Film, Bernie Cook, Ed. (The University of Texas Press, 2007).