In this essay I will be analysing the closing sequence of the film ‘Thelma and Louise’ written by Callie Khouri and directed by Ridley Scott. The focus of this essay on film language is mise-en-scene and sound/dialogue and how it is used to create meaning and generate response.
In the beginning of this scene Thelma and Louise are driving and they suddenly come to a cliff edge. Louise slams on the breaks and manages to stop the car just before going off the edge. The dialogue between Thelma and Louise, ‘What the hell is this?’ ‘I think it’s the God damned Grand Canyon,’ demonstrates their disbelief at how close they came to falling to their death. Thelma’s question also illustrates how little she was allowed out of the house when she was living with Darrell. The next dialogue as the camera pans round the canyon is of Thelma and Louise’s amazement at its beauty. Thelma says, ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ Louise responds, ‘Yeah, it’s somethin’ else alright.’ The camera pans around the canyon as if it was in the car and it is as if we are seeing through Thelma and Louise’s eyes. The audience see how beautiful the canyon is.
There is a slight pause in dialogue and movement, except the camera on a static shot of Thelma’s face starring out in awe at the canyon. Then Thelma and Louise look at each other and the helicopter comes up from in the canyon taking them by surprise. The helicopter is black and symbolises the good verses evil of the modern western film. As the helicopter flies over tem Louise turns the car around and tries to run quickly coming to a stop and realising the huge convoy of police cars surrounding them and trapping them in a semi circle again the cliff. The helicopter flies behind the cars and lands, Hal and Max exit it. Again Thelma and Louise’s dialogue is important here. Thelma says, ‘Oh my God. Look’s like the army!’ and Louise say, ‘All this for us!’ Louise is astonished that anyone could ever pay this much attention to her even considering what they have done. Thelma and Louise are told to shut the car engine down and place their hands in plain view and that any inability to do so will be considered an act of violence against the police.
At this point you can see the strong oppositions in the setting and this reflects Thelma and Louise’s point of view and decision about their situation. On one side of Thelma and Louise in the car you have the beautiful Grand Canyon, whereas on the other side you have the police line and capture. In the middle Thelma and Louise are stuck deciding what to do (give up or try and escape somehow), however the car is facing the cliff and away from the police so this indicates that they may have already made their decision. I have drawn a diagram to help explain my point:
Louise then starts to load her gun and Thelma asks what she is doing. Louise replies, “I’m not givin’ up.” Thelma realises that Louise will try escaping using violence and realises she will be out numbered and they will both get shot. Thelma comes up with an idea of throwing themselves off the cliff. They would rather die than give up and surrender to the men in the forces and have to stand trial and be hanged for murder. The dialogue is then as follows:
Thelma: “Ok then listen. Let’s not get caught.”
Louise: “Wha’ do y’u mean?”
Thelma: “Lets keep goin’ (pause and there is a CU
Louise: “You sure?”
Thelma: “Yeah. Hit it.”
This is the last thing we hear Thelma and Louise say in the film and it has strong significance. You as the audience know that they will not live and we feel sad because we have been wanting them to escape all the way through the film but then we also feel a great sense of joy that they won’t get caught they are going to commit suicide and end their life on a happy note instead of a hanging.
After the dialogue Louise kisses Thelma and this demonstrates the bond between them which has been so strong, but still grown, throughout the film. The audience is deeply moved by this as we admire them for having such courage and love for each other as to kill themselves.
We then view their death which is all silent except for Max yelling, ‘Hey!’ at Hal as he runs towards the car just before it speeds off over the cliff edge. Also the moving gospel like music which plays louder and with more harmony as Thelma and Louise get closer to the cliff edge. The music has had clips playing throughout the film and we recognise it instantly as an important part of the film. (The music always plays at important parts of the film.) The death involves lots of camera shots and changing angles and some slow motion which I shall now list below to avoid confusion.
* Thelma and Louise Kiss
* Shot of Hal’s face with an expression of concern looking straight down the camera giving us the impression he is looking and Thelma and Louise. – Hal cares about what happens to the girls. He is the only male throughout the film who shows caring for either of them.
* Louise revs the engine as she starts to drive
* Hal starts to run towards them and Max yells
* (Slow motion) Hal is running towards them from behind waving his arm in the air as if to say peace or wait to the girls. – He wants to try to save them. There is also a barrier of dust and we can’t see the car though it. – This is what the police gunmen would be seeing; Hal and the dust are protecting the girls from getting shot.
* (Normal speed) Two shots of the car driving, one of the front and one of the back. (The voices in the music begin.)
* (Slow motion) Hal running from a front view. We see his expression and realise he wants the girls to stop. He wants to save them. He is the only caring concerned male.
* (Normal Speed) Car driving towards cliff, we see a CU of the girls hands reaching out and clasping each other. – This is another powerful symbol of their bond. The voices in the music get louder and more harmonies come into the music. This provokes a strong emotional reaction from the audience as we know there is no going back now they are going to fast and will die, but we are happy for Thelma and Louise.
* We see a shot of the back of the car and we see the first photo that Thelma and Louise took of themselves before going on their trip fly off the back seat out of the car and behind them. This symbolises Thelma and Louise being free spirits and that they are free from the oppression of males they have had all their lives. They are dead and free.
* We see a shot of Thelma and Louise smiling at each other (Two separate shots of their faces which we assume are looking at one another) which illustrates they are happy with their decision and they love each other. Their hands are still clasped together. Reinforcing this image.
* We see a CU of Louise flooring the cars accelerator pedal which represents the finality of it all.
* Then we see the shot of the car leaving the cliff edge from a low angle shot. We are looking up at the car as it flies upwards then as it starts to come down the shot freezes and fades out to white. This is an alternative ending instead of watching the car free fall. It is better because it represents Thelma and Louise going to heaven and dying happily instead of seeing their horrible bloody death in the explosion as the car hits the bottom of the cliff. At this point the music is fully harmonised and very loud. The music throughout this scene has been used to build tension and convey strong emotion of the characters in the audience towards the end of the film.
In conclusion I think that this essay has demonstrated adequately how mise-en-scene and sound is used to generate response and create meaning in the film Thelma and Louise. And I believe that the closing scene is one of the most provocative and emotional of the entire film.