The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a film that probably works best as a companion to the compelling 2000 documentary that inspired it. While watching that documentary is not a prerequisite to enjoy the film on its own terms, the movie will certainly appeal best to people who have a working knowledge of the hilarious and tragic hijinks that ensued in America in the 1970’s and 1980’s. What the documentary — by nature of its medium — lacks in pathos, this film more than makes up for by giving viewers a look at the life, times, and hardships of the controversial late-20th century televangelist, here portrayed by a truly mesmerizing Jessica Chastain in an Oscar-nominated performance. Does Tammy Faye really buy all that she’s selling, or is it all just a means to an end for her, a way of making a quick buck at the expense of the burnt-out and the gullible? Wisely, the film never seeks to provide a definitive answer to the question. That conclusion is left up to the viewer to determine for themselves, much like it was at the end of the 20th century for those who witnessed the collapse of the PTL empire firsthand. Instead, the film opts to paint viewers a portrait of Tammy Faye that perhaps wasn’t as obvious on the television sets, portraying her as a human being of texture and contradiction. The story of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker is something of a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions, full of self-sabotage and rich paradox. At the end of the day, these are two people undone by their own fantasies. The whole affair calls to mind the dark irony found in any number of Psalms, such as Psalm 10, wherein the psalmist cries out to the Lord demanding that the arrogant wicked who pursue the poor are caught in their own schemes (Ps. 10:2). Can anyone look at Tammy Faye and say, with certainty, whether the woman truly believed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ as the basis of her right standing with the Father? No, and to that end, The Eyes of Tammy Faye does not even attempt to offer comment. But she was sincere in her delusion, that much comes through in the film, and pathetic in the truest literary sense of the word. I believe that Jesus Christ must have felt deeply for her, as he feels deeply for those who, like Tammy, remain ensnared by the fixed illusion that God has only ever intended the faithful to prosper materialistically
This Postmodern Realities episode is a conversation with Journal author Cole Burgett about his online-exclusive article, “Tragedy and Delusion in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” **Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for The Eyes of Tammy Faye.**
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