Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thelma and Louise: A Joseph Campbell Reading pt 2

Joseph Campbell says a mythic hero journeys into the self, into the unknown reaches of her mind and into the mystery of her existence.

Again, Campbell says it much better, but I'm at a loss for a good quote. And again, Ridley Scott depicts the mythological implications beautifully in Thelma and Louise.

Here in the final scenes of the movie, very close to the dramatic end, Thelma and Louise have narrowly escaped the cops. We think they're going to get away, but then a helicopter appears and we realize they haven't gotten away yet.

Not only is this a really cool shot and great composition, it has psychological meaning as well. 

Not coincidentally their journey takes them to the Grand Canyon, a huge pit in the ground carved out by the forces of nature over a millennia. Second to the Pacific Ocean, I can't think of a better representation of the unconscious than that. 

At one point they approach the edge, but are not quite ready to go over:

And precisely at this moment, the police helicopter appears, rising up from below the edge of the canyon. The helicopter is now an agent of their subconscious, pushing them towards their destiny. And of course the helicopter is painted matte black. I'm reminded of mythical images of a dragon rising it's head out of the abyss to surprise the questing hero.

We're close to the end of the movie and I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but it's fantastic. The entire movie has been about the transformation of these two characters and at this point there's really only one place for them to go. They've broken the law, lost all their worldly possessions and abandoned their former lives. All they need do now is make the final big leap into the unknown.

Thelma and Louise: A Joseph Campbell Reading pt1

Joseph Campbell says that a good mythological story takes us out of the phenomenal world and into an awareness of the eternal nature of the universe. To a place where the duality of life, yes and no, past and future, life and death, have no meaning and are two sides of the same coin.

He says it much better than that, but I can't find the right quote at the moment.

This concept of transcending the temporal plane is depicted brilliantly in the film Thelma and Louise.

3/4 of the way into the movie, very quickly approaching the climax, Louise has just spoken with the police: they're going to capture them dead or alive. Thelma hangs up the phone, refusing the offer to turn themselves in and get back on the road, determined to make it to Mexico.

Driving down the highway, camera cut to a beautiful shot of the Arizona landscape:

Thelma's looking out the window at the road in front of her, then looks down at the mirror to see the road behind her.

We see the mirror from Thelma's point of view. For a brief moment, what is in front and what is behind is indistinguishable. 

Thelma thinks on this:

And then has a bit of dialogue with Louise:

Thelma: Are you awake?
Louise: I guess you could call it that, my eyes are open
Thelma: Me too, I feel awake
Louise: Good
Thelma: Wide awake. I don't remember ever feeling this awake. Know what I mean? Everything looks different. You feel like that too, like you got something to look forward to?

Brilliant! At this moment Thelma has broken through to the other side and become aware of the eternity of the present. Now everything 'looks different' and what she thought she knew, about the world, about her life, about time is meaningless. She's transcended the phenomenal aspect of life and is now living in the moment. Fitting that she says she's awake.

Ridley Scott understood the mythological implications of this bit of dialogue and used brilliant imagery and editing to depict it.