Though set in Texas, Tender Mercies is a poignant reflection on experiences and challenges that are universal. It moves unhurriedly through the struggle of a middle-aged man to understand why, even after he seemingly made every effort to ruin his life, God still blessed him. His struggle, like the movie itself, isn't always pretty or smooth. When asked if he can immediately feel the effects of his conversion to Christianity, he admits, "not yet"—yet his smile, so rare and so bright, gives away the joy he almost fears to show.
Robert Duvall plays Mac, a man who has been hurt and who has in turn deeply hurt others. Rosa Lee, a younger woman, gives him a job and motivation to stay sober. Her deeply-rooted and simple-hearted faith (in moments of great fear she centers herself with the Psalms) touches him deeply, and soon he is learning again to live in the moment and to respond to love with love.
The film's craftsmanship will attract even those for whom the cultural milieu of the American South is foreign. These are folks who can sometimes communicate better through their music than they do in speech, and whose emotions are often best expressed when they are suppressed.
But the shudder of pure joy that goes through Rosa Lee at Mac's baptism, or the look of pride in his eyes when he can tell her that he has gone another day without succumbing to booze, are recognizable to everyone.
Rosa Lee tells Mac that he and her son are the "tender mercies" of her life. The movie invites us to reflect on how we reflect God's mercy into each others' lives.