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The Trip to Bountiful (1985) on IMDb

Plot Overview

To the softly sung hymn “Softly and Tenderly [Jesus is Calling]” a young mother is chasing her son through a meadow until she catches him and holds him to her breast. The spell is broken and we catch a somber widow Carrie Watts (Geraldine Page) reminiscing in lieu of sleep (“It's a full moon.”) She lives with her son Ludie Watts (John Heard) who joins her with some music on the radio. Soon his wife Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn) joins them both, but only to complain about her mother-in-law (“I'm at the end of my rope”) and suggest they go to a picture show once or twice a week. She and Ludie have been married fifteen years. Ludie is upwardly mobile. He's reading, How to Become an Executive. He's got his hands full managing these two women in his two room apartment.

To the morning music of KPRC, he explains to his mom why they can't go back to her coastal child­hood haunt of Bountiful (“We have to live in Houston.”) To a hummed “We Shall Gather at the River” Mother Watts caches her pension check. To the big band sound of KTRH, Houston, Jessie Mae makes a 2:00 hair appoint­ment in preparation for going out on the town. To the hymn “Calling, O sinner, come home,” Mother Watts has “one of those sinking spells,” but she rouses her­self, walks out of the house past the picture of Jesus and a lamb, makes her way to the bustling train station past a couple of nuns, and tries to buy a ticket to Bountiful. “No trains go there any more,” the ticket man (Norman Bennett) says. This is not the first time she's tried this. Her son knows where to find her. She's a day late and a dollar short, it seems.


We're reminded of, (1Cor. 3:21-22) “For all things are yours; Whether … the world, … or things present, or things to come; all are your's.” Mother Watts has “present” memories of her child­hood corner of “the world”, brought on by the full moon. The question is, for this woman of faith, can she obtain a visit “to come” to Bountiful?

By the end of the movie the three principals have managed to make peace. This reminds us of, (1Cor. 7:14) “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband.” Assuming Ludie is a believer as was his mom—this isn't quite clear—it is never­the­less evident that Jessie Mae is altogether worldly. Her sanctification by him to the extent that she'll “stop wrangling” doesn't come until after Mother Watts's (attempted) trip to Bountiful. It's a minor part of the plot, but it contrasts nicely with the universally understood sanctification of such “present” mixed marriages to the neglect of sanctification of mixed marriages “to come.”

Mother Watts finds a sympathetic ear in fellow traveller Thelma (Rebecca De Mornay) and confides to her that God seems to be favoring this trip of hers this time (or perhaps every time, just not recognized.) She comforts Thelma concerning the latter's husband's over­seas military posting by quoting, (Psalm 91:1) “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” This is a well known panacea against danger, especially for those in the military—see my reviews of “A Walk Among the Tomb­stones” (2014) and “Frenzy” (1972). It seems to be a comfort to Mother Watts, too, as we see her with her Bible opened to the book of Psalms on the bus. The way things are working out, she seems to be blessed according to (Prov. 4:11-12) “I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.” She is definitely operating “in the Lord” as a widow in another situation was advised to do, (1Cor. 7:39) “she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” Here again this passage is largely mis­under­stood when people read it as a poorly constructed adjectival prepositional phrase modifying whom she's at liberty to marry instead of correctly as an adverbial prepositional phrase modifying the action verb. A good example of this mistake can be seen in the movie “Zoolander 2” (2016) displaying the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Wanna Learn. It should be “read well” (adverb) not “read good” (adjective) as in reading good books. Similarly if Paul had meant the widow to be restricted in remarriage only to another Christian, he should have said, “only in the church”. “Only in the Lord” is how any widow should go about her whole life, as did Mother Watts here.

Young Thelma was so much in love with her husband she was silly about it, to the point of being criticized by her friends. Mother Watts thought Thelma was just fine and confessed to her that she her­self had been in love once with one Ray John Murray, and he with her, but their fathers weren't on speaking terms, so hers forced her to write Ray John a letter calling it off. That's similar to what Paul said in, (2Cor. 6:12) “Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels.” It's not Paul putting the kibosh on mixed marriages but people wresting his words to do it as I've described above. Paul's next words, (2Cor. 6:14) “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: ...” were (in context) addressed towards Christian worship and/or service—as I've expounded in another study—and would correspond in this movie to Mother Watts's father driving any hunters off their property resulting in it becoming a sanctuary for birds. In a survivable mixed marriage the unbelieving spouse would allow the believing one sanctuary to attend church, say twice a week, worshipping with other Christians. In this movie Jessie Mae determined to go to her bridge club meetings twice a week, allowing Mother Watts a space at home to sing hymns to her heart's content.

Production Values

This marvelous, “The Trip to Bountiful” (1985) was directed by Peter Masterson, having been written by Horton Foote based on his play, The Trip to Bountiful. It stars Geraldine Page, John Heard, and Carlin Glynn. Geraldine Page is great as Mother Watts, switching mood according to circum­stance. Carlin Glynn seemed to enjoy playing the despic­able Jessie Mae, and Rebecca De Mornay is memorable as sweet-tempered Thelma. John Heard's acting is flat except for his confession scene. The rest of the cast and crew did a splendid job. Richard Bradford made his mark as the compassionate sheriff.

This movie is rated PG. There's a 1947 Chevy in it setting the time­frame. The title song was sung by Cynthia Clawson. It started out as a live TV play in 1953, then moved to Broad­way and eventually to this 1985 movie, but it still retains the feel of a play, making it too slow for some audiences. The screen direction isn't consistent and it's rife with mismatches. The main character's acting is what carries it, so the rest doesn't bother us.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I'm a live theater aficionado from way back, so I found this one easy to appreciate, but some­one who is used to more pizzazz might find it a bore. Yet even a bore if it is sentimental enough will move the viewer to appreciation. This one sure brought back memories of my old home in the country. Be prepared for leaky gills more than peak thrills.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Special effects: Wake up and smell the 1990s technology. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Predictable. Overall product rating: three and a half stars out of five.