The ending of “Thelma & Louise” stands as one of Hollywood’s most epic finales, but for screenwriter Callie Khouri, writing the scene was simply a no-brainer.
“It literally just appeared in my head. And I knew that that was the ending,” Khouri told Variety at the film’s screening at Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on June 18. “I’m so grateful to Ridley for keeping it that way, because I know that there were people who were nervous about it.”
The 30th anniversary celebration of “Thelma & Louise” by MGM and Cinespia brought Khouri, Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon together for a Q+A and drive-in charity experience that benefited the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The two leading ladies donned matching shirts that read, “I’m Her Thelma & She’s My Louise.”
“The reaction from women was so strong and nothing I’d ever seen before. It made me realize how few opportunities we have for women to come out a movie feeling empowered by the female character,” Davis reflected while on the red carpet. “It made me think, ‘Well, I’m really going to think about what are the women in the audience going to think about my character from now on.’”
Mirroring Khouri’s approach to the movie’s final scene, Sarandon revealed that her improvisation of Louise and Thelma’s farewell kiss was all intuition.
“I just felt by that time that they were finishing each other’s sentences and that they loved each other and this was a big moment and the sun was going down. We had one take because they spent all day with the helicopters and everything else,” Sarandon said. “It just felt right… it was just an intuition thing.”
When the road movie first hit theaters in 1991, audiences were stunned — and some angered — by its violence, particularly in the killing of Harlan (Timothy Carhart), Thelma’s almost rapist. Even with Thelma safely out of his grasp, Louise fires off a revolver when Harlan’s abhorrent insults push her too far.
“I think that’s like the first example on film of a woman being triggered to the point that she just lost it,” Khouri laughed. “You don’t know what’s happened to a person… That’s kind of what the point of the movie was. You think you know who these women are, [but] we’re going to show you, we’re going to peel back this onion and you’re going to be sorry that you thought so little of them.”
If anything has changed in the 30 years since “Thelma & Louise” premiered, it’s the unanimous welcoming of their on-screen and in-person ferocity, as indicated by beeping horns of encouragement from the screening’s drive-in attendees.
“It was just so fun to be able to get to do something that made women get excited, that made actresses get excited,” Khouri said. “With everything that I do, I want an actress to pick up the script and go, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to play this part.’”