Tender Mercies

I am on a mission to find the best popular entertainment that treats Christians with both respect and realism. By realism, I simply mean that after reading, watching, or listening we should know at least a little more about the reality we live in.

This mission compels me because I’m convinced far too little such entertainment is being produced. What we are offered instead is, on one hand “mainstream,” books, films, and songs that take care not to alienate skeptics by taking the faith or its adherents seriously, and on the other hand “Christian” works meant not to enlighten but to reinforce the faith.

I made a Christmas list of some books and films I thought might be worthy of reporting on.  That scored me DVDs of three films not likely to be found on Netflix or Roku. The first of them I watched was Tender Mercies.

Begging your pardon for the plagiarism, I quote from Wikipedia: “The film encompasses several different themes, including the importance of love and family, the possibility of spiritual resurrection amid death, and the concept of redemption through conversion to Christianity. Universal Pictures made little effort to publicizeTender Mercies. The film was released in a limited number of theatres. Although unsuccessful at the box office, it was critically acclaimed and earned five Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture, won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, and Robert Duvall won the Academy Award for Best Actor.”

In case all that acclaim doesn’t convince you to watch Tender Mercies, I will add that the film is spellbinding in a quiet way. The script, by Horton Foote, who among other dramatic triumphs, adapted To Kill a Mockingbird to film, is skillfully real and understated, and the acting is humble and entirely convincing.

The story — of a country singer’s fall into drunken shame, his divorce and its tragic effect on his daughter, a little boy orphaned, and a young widow attempting to live out her belief, contains a wealth of tragic drama, yet the film declines to exploit any character’s sorrow. Instead, it shows us how to carry on.

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