This interview is part of a series about the 50 greatest fictional deaths of all time. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Slate: Why the Grand Canyon?
Callie Khouri (screenwriter): I got the idea for the movie when I was driving through Monument Valley. And so I think it’s because … it’s about the chasm between truth and equity. You know what I mean? It was a way of just, in this really intensely beautiful backdrop, letting them go. And it had to have a kind of grandeur. I mean, if they had just jumped off a bridge or something like that, it would have been too literal. There was just something about the flying off into the great unknown. Really, it was supposed to feel like they got away. At least they did it on their own terms. And it wasn’t with despair.
The way that Thelma presents it is, “Let’s not get caught. Let’s keep going.” That, I think, is what makes the scene so iconic. Not just the great launch off the edge, but the way she declares what it should mean to them.
It’s like, they’re going to spend the rest of their lives not being believed, being put in tiny boxes. They know what’s going to happen. It’s the same thing. We all know the story. There was not going to be any justice for them and they knew it and we know it, just like we know there’s no justice for Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird. They’re always going to find a way to just make it hurt even worse.
Did you have to fight for this ending?
Early on, when we were taking the project around, there were certainly people that asked, “How are you going to change the ending?” And at that point, I mean, this was my first thing that—not my first screenplay, it was the first thing I had ever written. And so I felt like I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t in any mood to say, “Oh, you want to change it? Oh, OK, well, what do you want?” I was like, “No, this is the story.” I mean, Jesus Christ, it’s a yes or no question. You want to make it or not?
Once you sold it and found a studio to make it, you didn’t face any executives trying to make last-minute changes?
Ridley [Scott] really fought for that ending. Because I’m certain that they wanted him to try other endings. But he had gotten it in his contract that he got to shoot that ending, which was no small feat. And I mean, I’m just forever in his debt for really sticking with it.
How did he get the hubcap to come off the car just right?
That’s 10,000 hours of him making car commercials.