There's a moment in 'Thelma & Louise' that perfectly encapsulates the heart of the narrative. While the two female leads are driving through a rocky desert terrain, Thelma (Geena Davis) suddenly turns to her best friend and partner in crime Louise (Susan Sarandon) and says, "I feel awake." At the beginning of the film, Thelma was seen as a very submissive but goofy housewife, a lonely woman who could only fantasize about escaping the humdrum chore of her controlled existence. Louise is somewhat opposite, a hardworking waitress who appears confident and independent, but as things progress, we realize she's haunted by a traumatic past. For the story to work and deliver meaningful impact, it seems fitting that Thelma should announce their awakening.
'Thelma & Louise' is a marvelous film that struck a chord with audiences in 1991. Sitting comfortably as one of Ridley Scott's finest directorial efforts, the movie is a gender bender which places two strong female characters in the leads — roles commonly performed by men. Written by Callie Khouri, who won an Oscar for her excellent script, the buddy road flick also crosses genre lines by mixing aspects of crime/vigilante with outlaw/western elements. Much like the movie's two endearing and praised stars on a journey of self-actualization, audiences, too, are on unfamiliar ground with an adventure that features a woman in the driver's seat. What starts as a weekend vacation away from men, suddenly transforms into desperate search for control of one's own life.
During its theatrical run, the film was wrongfully dismissed by some as a celebration of man-bashing and violence. Nothing could be further from the truth, because the film goes beyond the way men are depicted. The plot centers on the awakening of our two accidental heroines, of their bringing forth an inner desire to control their own lives. We see Thelma waiting on her demanding husband similarly to the way Louise hustles and bustles on the job. From the moment the movie commences, the women are reminded that they are not living, but surviving within a society that objectifies them. Symbolically, their aspiring to escape this reality becomes a criminal act, as something forbidden.
If anything, the men of 'Thelma & Louise' are shown as a complex group of varying personalities with none ever seen as a prominent, representative archetype. Three jerks are balanced with three good guys. Darryl (Christopher McDonald) is the pig who treats women as his personal servants and Harlan (Timothy Carhart) is arguably his violent, sadistic equivalent. The truck driver (Marco St. John), whose large, phallic-like 18-wheeler tanker trailer meets an explosive end, views women only as objects of sexual pleasure. Opposite them is a sympathetic detective (Harvey Keitel) who believes the women are the true victims of this chaotic mess. Jimmy (Michael Madsen) is Louise's boyfriend, a person who clearly loves her as she is. J.D. (Brad Pitt, in his breakout role) is a harmless criminal who serves as catalyst to Thelma's transformation.
At the time of its release, 'Thelma & Louise' stirred quite the controversy and garnered unwarranted criticism, along with accolades that took the nation on a bit of a ride. On one level, Ridley Scott's film is largely a spectacle of feminist wish-fulfillment, a crime drama on the social injustices of women, but on a level all audiences can share, the road trip is a moving tale about escaping social trappings, a tragic comedy that calls for living rather than surviving. The final, lasting image of our inspiring heroines, with similar smiles as those photographed at the beginning, is actually the climax. There is no logical resolution to this story because it would only take away from their memory. The best and most suitable ending for such a wild ride — to leave on a high point and never give in.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'Thelma & Louise' to Blu-ray as a 20th Anniversary edition. The Region Free, BD50 disc comes in a blue eco-case. At startup, it goes straight to the standard menu option with full-motion clips playing in the background with music.
'Thelma & Louise' has been released on home video a few times since its theatrical run, including a collector's edition laserdisc. Twenty years later, it blazes onto Blu-ray with what can be confidently said as the best video presentation of this modern outlaw western we've ever seen. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (2.35:1) looks like it might have been remastered recently with the most minimal of clean-up jobs.
The picture retains a great deal of fine object detail throughout, although several scenes appear quite softer than most, though they're clearly related to the photography and not a fault of the transfer. The threading of clothes, hair and other random items are distinct and visible, even in the dusky, dark interiors with poor lighting. Contrast is crisp and comfortably bright, allowing for Adrian Biddle's ('Aliens,' 'The Princess Bride') gorgeous photography of Utah's unique rocky desert terrain to shine on screen. Primaries possess a more natural, realistic tone and are cleanly rendered while secondary colors are bold and play a more prominent role in the overall palette. Flesh tones also appear healthy and appropriate to the climate, with good textural details in close-up shots.
The only issue worth noting is a rather lacking and inconsistent black level. Ignoring indoor sequences, where shadows are understandably murkier than the rest of the image, blacks can occasionally appear somewhat dull and even faded. This occurs in a few outdoor daylight scenes as well. It's not enough to completely ruin the film's enjoyment, and in fact, the overall presentation looks so great that such a negligible drawback can be easily ignored. In the end, the two beautiful renegades have never looked better than they do on this Blu-ray.
Fox Studios also includes a winning DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that's very satisfying for the film. Mostly located in the front and dialogue-driven, the soundstage is highly welcoming and full of warmth, with well-prioritized vocals which are never drowned out by the chaos. Pans and movement between the three channels are seamless, with convincing off-screen action, providing the lossless mix an attractive spaciousness. The presentation also exhibits a wide mid-range without a loss to clarity and detail while low-frequency effects are reserved for specific points of action, but they're quite responsive and ample when called upon.
The rears are not used in any noteworthy manner, except for a few minor echoes and atmospherics. The musical score by Hans Zimmer, however, lends itself beautifully to the background, expanding the soundfield and maintaining listener engagement eloquently. Overall, it's a terrific audio track that perfectly suits the film.
For this Blu-ray Anniversary Edition of 'Thelma & Louise,' MGM Home Entertainment celebrates with the same assortment of bonus features seen in the 2003 Special Edition DVD. This is not an altogether bad thing, but it's disappointing fans are not offered something new.
'Thelma & Louise,' one of the most talked about movies of the early nineties, is a compelling and tragic crime drama about an outlaw duo escaping their mundane lives. Director Ridley Scott takes audiences on a journey of independence through the beautiful deserts of Utah with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis leading the charge. This new Blu-ray edition celebrates the film's 20th Anniversary with an excellent audio and video presentation that easily bests previous home video releases. It also features the same set of supplements, making this a very attractive package for fans of this great film.