Faith Review – Tender Mercies (1983)
Faith Review of “Tender Mercies”
by Jonathan Davis
Film Title: Tender Mercies
Director: Bruce Beresford
Original release form/venue: This film was originally released for viewing in movie theaters.
Current Availability and formats: The film can be found on DVD. It can be purchased via Amazon.com, most retailers that sell movie DVDs, or it can be streamed from sites such as Netflix.
Genre: This film is a drama, musical and love story.
Story Elements: This film’s main focus is on a country singer, Mac Sledge, who is down on his luck. Due to his drinking he has run his singing career in the ground. He finds himself in a small motel in the rural part of Texas. He meets a widow, Rosa Lee, and her son, Sonny. He initially works for Rosa Lee, who is the owner of the motel, to pay off his debt for staying at the motel, but falls in love with her and they get married.
Rosa Lee later learns that Mac Sledge is a famous country singer and his ex-wife, Dixie, is a famous country singer as well. Dixie and Mac have a daughter together, Sue Anne, but Dixie has kept Mac from seeing Sue Anne after their divorce, due to his drinking.
In the film, Mac quits drinking, is baptized, forms a relationship with his daughter from whom he has been estranged, records another record and bonds with Sonny. Sonny lost his father in the Vietnam War and never got to know him because he was so young when his father died.
Film Language Elements: The setting of the film is in rural Texas. The motel where Mac, Rosa Lee and Sonny live is located in a deserted area in the middle of nowhere. They also sell gas at the motel. The cameras catch the beautiful scenery of the clear blue sky, and beautiful farmland. There are several scenes with various people and groups singing country music. The music used is appropriate for the particular scenes in which it is being played.
Audience/Cultural Context elements: The film is appropriate for adults and teenagers.
Theology is found: The theology that is found in the film is implicit. Mercy and grace are granted to several of the characters of the film.
Theological themes for conversation: The main theological theme of this film is mercy. Other theological themes of the film are: forgiveness, grace, baptism, and restoration.
Forgiveness is illustrated in the film when Mac’s daughter, Sue Ann, finds him. She is looking for some answers as to why Mac was estranged from her. She is looking for answers so that she can forgive Mac and form a relationship with him.
Grace and mercy are granted to Mac even though he may not think so at times. Grace and mercy are granted to Rosa Lee and Sonny.
Mac and Sonny are baptized.
There is brokenness in the film. Mac, Rosa Lee and Sonny are all broken but are restored by the end of the film.
Suggested type of conversation:
- The film can be used to have conversations about loneliness. Rosa Lee finds herself lonely, with the exception of her son, after her husband is killed in Vietnam. Mac finds that he is lonely after the failure of his singing career. Dixie finds that she is lonely when her daughter runs off and gets married. Sonny finds himself lonely with the void of not having a father.
- The film can be used to have conversations about marriage. In the film, Mac reflects on his two previous marriages. He is in a marriage with Rosa Lee that appears to be working.
- The film can be used to have conversations about divorce, focusing on the good and bad. Mac and Dixie appear not to have a good relationship, apparently due to his previous drinking, but by the end of the movie and the death of their daughter, they seem to have a relationship involving respect for each other.
- The film can be used to have conversations about parenting. In the film, Dixie says she gave her daughter everything. Was that too much? Due to Mac’s drinking and the divorce, he was not there for his daughter, but he becomes a father to Sonny and is the only father that Sonny knows.
- The film can be used to have conversations about mercy and grace, describing what they look like.
- The film can also be used to talk about baptism and its meaning.
Questions for Theological Conversations:
What is the difference between mercy and grace?
Where is mercy evident in the film and where is grace evident in the film?
At the end of the movie, Mac says that he was almost killed one time. He was drunk and was in a car accident. The car turned over four times. He lived, and the lady in the car with him died. He said he does not know why he lived and the lady died. He said he asked God these questions, but he did not get an answer to his prayer. What are some reasons you feel Mac’s life was spared?
Mac also asks the question, why did Rosa Lee take him in, have pity on him and marry him? He wants to know why. Why do you think those things happened?
Mac states that Sonny’s father died in the war, and wonders why his daughter died in the car accident. Mac says he does not know the answer to anything. Do you feel there is a reason God leaves questions unanswered?
Dixie asks the question, “Why did God do this to me?” What are your feelings on Dixie’s question?
Mac and Sonny were baptized. When Sonny asked Mac if he saw a change after the baptism, Mac said, “not yet.” What do you think Mac means by this statement?
Recommended ways to view and engage the film: The film should be viewed in its entirety for full understanding of the different theological themes in the film and in order to engage in the various conversations that can be had surrounding the film. I recommend the film be used during a weekend retreat or Vacation Bible School for adults where the film is viewed one day and different topics are covered on the other days.
The film can be used to engage teenagers in a discussion about how children feel when their parents are divorced. I recommend focusing on Mac’s daughter, Sue Anne, and have discussions with teenagers on some of the issues they feel Sue Anne was dealing with due to the divorce of her parents.
The film can also be used to focus on Sonny. The children are very cruel to Sonny. The film can be used to engage teenagers in a discussion about bullying and being sensitive to other children’s feelings.
Clips of the film can be used to have discussion on certain topics. For instance, the scene where Mac and Sonny are baptized can be viewed, in order to start a discussion about the meaning of baptism.
The scene at the end of the film, where Mac is asking questions about why his daughter was killed and why he lived when he was in a car accident while the other lady died, can be used to engage in conversations about mercy and grace. Explore possible reasons why God does some things and does not do others.
This film is packed with many themes and topics for conversation in a church setting. I like music; therefore, I really enjoyed the music in the film. The rural setting reminds me of where I grew up. The film is definitely not explicit in its themes and topics. It leaves much to be filled in. For instance, there is not a scene showing Rosa Lee and Mac getting close to each other; he just asks her to marry him. The viewer can only assume that they had been getting closer prior to the proposal. There are many uses for this film.