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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Battle of the Bands

Tender Mercies (1983) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Maripasa Motel is on open highway four miles from the nearest Texas town, within ground­wave coverage of Austin radio stations. An anonymous cowboy drops off washed-up country legend Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) to dry up, who not having cash resources works off his bill for “room, meals, and $2 an hour.” The forced intimate setting with the proprietress, young widow Rosa Lee (Tess Harper) and her ≈10-year-old son Sonny (Allan Hubbard) allows feelings to develop and soon they get married. When a reporter (Paul Gleason) tracks him down, it sparks interest in a come­back from his old manager Harry (Wilford Brimley), opposition from his bitter ex-wife/singer Dixie Scott (Betty Buckley), curiosity from his uninformed teenage daughter Sue Anne (Ellen Barkin), and homage from local start-up band Slater Mill Boys. The conflict between the wedding band and the country bands is enough to drive a good man to drink, but a good woman can help him find his true self.


Country songs dealing often with sad and tragic events, we get a dollop of that here, enough for Mac to question, “Why has God done this to me? Why [so and so] died and I lived? I don't know why I wandered out to this part of Texas drunk, and you took me in and pitied me and helped me to straighten out, marry me. Why? Why did that happen? Is there a reason that happened? And Sonny's daddy died in the war, [so and so] killed in an auto­mobile accident. Why?” There are always questions beyond our ken. As it is written, (Sirach 3:21-22) “Seek not out things that are too hard for thee, neither search the things that are above thy strength. But what is commanded thee, think there­upon with reverence, for it is not needful for thee to see with thine eyes the things that are in secret.” One could make the case that it was more the drunk driver at fault for the accident, so it is our responsibility to lay off the hooch (“Give me the bottle.”) As for war, what can one expect? As John Renehan writes, “Derr spent most of his time out­side … stomping through the Afghan back­hills with his platoon shooting at people. It was precisely what Derr had imagined he would be doing when he set out to become an Army officer, and the universe had graciously given him no reason to question his assumptions” (11). A better question for Mac might be why he didn't take up war protest songs during his 1960s formative troubadour years.

A contemplative answer is also given in the recurring song, “Wings of a Dove” that includes the words:

Jesus went down to the water one day.
He got baptized in the usual way.

Instead of being sanctified by the water, according to Orthodox teaching, Jesus being baptized sanctified the water Him­self, water that then flowed and inter­mingled with all the waters on Earth. In the church baptism scene in the movie there was a watery tableau behind the baptismal signifying that these sanctified waters will now sanctify the baptized. They question each other after­wards whether they feel any different, discover they don't, and figure it takes a while. Similarly, it might take a while for the sanctified Creation to take, for sorrows to dissipate.

Rosa Lee seems to have the right idea in that she gives herself to prayer. When asked, “Would you think about marrying me?” she tells Mac, “Yeah, I will,” meaning she's going to pray about it. She has a grateful heart, “I thank the Lord for his love and for his tender mercies to me.” She prays at night according to (Psalm 25:4-6) “Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day. [Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy loving­kindnesses; for they have been ever of old.]” God's loving­kindness is demonstrated according to, (Psalm 107:40-43) “He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way. Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction, and maketh him families like a flock. The righteous shall see it, and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth. Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall under­stand the loving­kind­ness of the LORD.” God's tender mercies are as given in, (Psalm 145:9) “The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.”

Rosa Lee consequently basks in God's loving care for her. Archpriest John Sergieff writes: (24)

Men have fallen into unbelief because they have either completely lost the spirit of prayer, or never had it at all, nor have it now—in short, because they do not pray. The prince of this world has full scope for action in the hearts of such men; he becomes their master. They have not asked and do not ask God's grace in prayer (for God's gifts are only given to those who ask and seek), and thus their hearts, corrupt by nature, become dried up with­out the vivifying dew of the Holy Ghost, and at last from their extreme dryness they take fire, and blaze with the infernal flame of unbelief and various passions, and the Devil only knows how to inflame the passions that keep up this terrible fire, and triumphs in the sight of the ruin of the unfortunate souls that were redeemed by the blood of Him who has trampled the power of Satan under foot.

Rosa Lee sings in the church choir, “Jesus Saves” and lives as she experiences it. Dixie sings the country songs but is as Mac describes her, “Poison.” Rosa Lee becomes an anchor for her man who is trying to find his way, as in, (1Peter 3:1) “Like­wise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may with­out the word be won by the conversation of the wives.” "Conversation" is used here in an obsolete sense of the word meaning conduct or manner of life. She doesn't nag him but provides a domestic anchor for him to return to should he go astray. That according to a song he sings, “If you'll just hold the ladder, baby, I'll climb to the top.” Dixie from what we see of her is more like the broad who climbs the ladder up above her man and then tries to pull him up, resulting in catastrophe.

When Reverend Hotchkiss (Norman Bennett) found out from Mac, “I haven't been baptized,” he replies, “We'll work on you,” meaning he'll preach good sermons and Rosa Lee will be a good domestic base. It's unfortunately popular among preachers today to substitute an ‘I’ for a ‘We’ thinking their sermons alone will do the job and women are exempt from their respon­sibility. What's worse is modern Bible trans­lations that edit certain passages to put women above, pulling, rather than down below, supporting, as I've mentioned in other movie reviews.

Production Values

“Tender Mercies” (1983) was directed by Australian director Bruce Beres­ford. It boasts a solid screen­play by native Texan Horton Foote. It stars Robert Duvall, Tess Harper, and Betty Buckley. It was a great show­case for Duvall, and Tess Harper gives a good performance having been discovered for this picture. Tess as Mac's new wife, and Alan Hubbard, as her son, are two of the most realistic characters you'll ever see on film; their regional accents nail it. Wilford Brimley and Ellen Barkin give memorable supporting performances though Ellen is a stretch for 18. The supporting cast was first rate. There wasn't a false performance in the whole movie.

This movie was rated PG. It was undersold by the studios but won some awards regard­less. Robert Duvall successfully selects and sings songs of other artists, and he contributes two good ones of his own: “Fool's Waltz” and “I've Decided to Leave Her For­ever.” There was some keen art direction from Jeannine Oppewall using a general sepia tone. The Australian camera­man shot a lot of big sky, evidently from his familiarity with the outback. There were a number of long takes. The Irish editor worked his magic as well.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

“Tender Mercies” contains Christian-friendly material: church choir singing, heart­felt praying, and a woman who humbly lives out her faith. It doesn't push a religious theme, but it doesn't balk either at scriptural prayer, gospel music, and full immersion baptism. It's been faulted for being too slow, but one doesn't necessarily recover from alcoholism in a hurry, so the pace seemed fine to me. I found it delightful. You may recognize singer Betty Buckley from her song “Memories” of the show "Cats." Don't worry if you don't like country music, because you won't be over­whelmed. This is a great low intensity picture.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children w/guidance. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Video Occasion: Good Date Movie. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Apocryphal scripture taken from The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. U.S.A.: Hendrick­son Pub. Originally published by Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd., London, 1851. Print, WEB.

Renehan, John. The Valley. New York: Penguin Random House Co., 2015. Print.

Sergieff, Archpriest John Iliytch. My Life in Christ. or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and Peace in God: Extracts from the diary of St. John of Kronstadt (Archpriest John Iliytch Sergieff). Trans­lated with the author's sanction, from the Fourth and Supplemental Edition by E.E. Goulaeff. St. Petersburg. Jordans­ville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2000. Print.

“Wings of a Dove.” Written by Bob Ferguson. As sung by Robert Duvall in the film.