It's an ending that will live forever in movie — and pop culture — history.
Thelma and Louise, played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, cornered by the cops, decide that rather than surrender they will drive off a cliff in their teal-colored Thunderbird convertible. Homages to the final scene have shown up everywhere from "The Simpson" to a current Bing.com commercial.
Callie Khouri, who won an Academy Award for her "Thelma & Louise" screenplay, notes that the ending "has really turned into a half-full, half-empty glass of water. People either thought it was an uplifting ending or they thought they committed suicide at the end. It kind of depends on how they see it. I always learn a lot from a person when they come up immediately and say, 'Why did you kill them off?' "
The 1991 film is being shown Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Khouri will be on hand to talk about the making of the movie — and yes, that ending.
Summer audiences that year were flocking to "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," " Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "City Slickers" and "The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear" — all male-dominated movies. But one of the summer's biggest surprises was "Thelma & Louise," a feminist-driven American road movie starring Davis and Susan Sarandon as two best friends, both trapped in their stagnate lives, who decide to go on a fishing trip in Louise's 1966 T-Bird. But their journey turns into a flight for freedom after they go to a cowboy bar and dance hall. The man Thelma meets there attempts to rape her in the parking lot; Louise loses her temper and kills the man with her gun. Soon the cops, lead by Harvey Keitel, are hot on their trail.
An instant critical and commercial success, the film was a real change of pace for director Ridley Scott, who was known for his more macho films such as "Alien" and "Blade Runner." The film helped boost the star wattage of a young Brad Pitt, who played the sexy hitchhiker J.D. — who can forget his abs? "Thelma & Louise" earned six Oscar nominations including lead actress nods for Davis and Sarandon and director for Scott. Khouri, whose original screenplay award represented the lone win, was producing music videos as a freelancer when she came up with the idea for the film.
"I started writing in between jobs and at night," she says. "This was my first attempt at a screenplay. I idiotically thought screenwriting would be easier than writing a novel. I was just uneducated enough about screenwriting to think it was easy."
Khouri says the idea came from am amalgamation of things. "I had and still have a very close friend of mine who is a songwriter-singer in Nashville," she explains. "We had a very similar dynamic, I guess, you would say in terms of just being able to get in the car and feel like we were free from the rest of the world. There was a lot of fun involved and there were times when we found ourselves in all kinds of, not trouble, but situations, I guess, due to youth and other youthful pursuits. Looking back on it, we wouldn't repeat a lot of the stuff we did."
She also discovered what it was like to work in a male-dominated society.
When she began in music videos in the early to mid-1980s, Khouri says, "it was not exactly the high-water mark for the way women were represented on film and in others areas. I am certainly an intelligent person, and yet people would treat me if I was almost nonexistent. It blew my mind. I thought, no wonder women are crazy. You are walking around and you are supposed to act like this is normal where some guy can say anything to you. I remember when I was in Nashville feeling not that safe and if somebody said something really offensive to you, you were always kind of told not to start anything."
Until "Thelma & Louise," Khouri says, "I felt like nobody talked about that." When the film was released, here were a lot of women who felt "relieved there was something out there that put words and pictures to their experience."
And nobody treats her like a blank space these days. "When people know I wrote 'Thelma & Louise,' they don't want to mess with me," she says, laughing.
Since "Thelma & Louise," Khouri wrote the screenplay to the 1995 Julia Roberts film "Something to Talk About," co-wrote and directed the 2002 hit "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" and directed the 2008 crime-caper comedy "Mad Money."
"I'm still plugging away," Khouri says. "I have various irons in the fire. So I carry on. My life isn't very different from any other writer-director in town."
For more information on the screening go to http://www.americancinematheque.com.