Tammy Faye Bakker begins the film with a dialogue, “My eyebrows are permanently on because that’s my trademark.” Filmmaker Michael Showalter depicts the film through “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” There is a reason behind it. Many people judge a film based on the real people it portrays. But we, as artists, see films as the characters’ look at the world. People believe that humans need to be perfect in the real world. That’s stressful. In art, artists believe a character is meant to be flawed. Let’s look at the imperfect life of Tammy Faye.
The narrative follows the rise and fall of America’s most famous and prosperous televangelist couple, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. The two incredibly brilliant “performing artists” who sold Faith on television. They started a multi-million dollar religious organization called Praise the Lord Club (PTL Club). However, after a scandal, their house of cards sank into ruins. Many reporters call the story of Jim and Tammy Bakker the Pearly Gate story, which tainted the name “preacher.”
‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ Plot Summary
The Eyes of Tammy Faye begins with a little Tammy who adores herself in the mirror and puts lipstick on her lips. The stance depicted her fondness towards makeup. Tammy lived with her mother, Rachel, and step-father, Fred. Rachel was previously married to Carl Oliver LaValley. The painful divorce with her first husband, Tammy’s father, soured her relationship with church ministers. They only allowed Rachel to play the piano because nobody else could play in the community in International Falls, Minnesota, in 1952.
Tammy showed her desire to attend church sermons, but her mother, Rachel, denied her request. She didn’t want the ministers to banish the family because they looked down upon Tammy and everything connected to Rachel’s previous marriage.
But Tammy was unstoppable. She visited the church and performed in front of the crowd as if God had entered her body. Her act impressed the pastor, and Tammy finally got what she wanted.
A few years later, in 1960, Tammy followed her desire to preach Christianity. She enrolled herself in North Central Bible College, where she met the love of her life, Jim Bakker. Jim told Tammy that before dedicating his life to God, he wanted to become a radio deejay. But a tragic accident made him change his course. Tammy constantly desired to become a singer someday and sing the song in God’s praise, and in Jim, she found her rhythm. The two energetic performers struck a connection and married each other.
Rachel disapproved of Tammy’s marriage, and the couple left the house to become travelling preachers. Tammy created a puppet, Susie Moppet, that made them famous among the kids. But this was just the beginning of a religious empire to be built on the foundation called Faith.
Major Spoilers Ahead
The Foundation of Praise the Lord Club (PTL Club)
To define Jim Bakker (as a character played by Andrew Garfield), he was an ambitious and narcissistic artist. He wanted luxury, the limelight, and a cult following. But he wasn’t any action cow-boy hero, and hence he did what he believed in, preaching. He aspired to become the next Pat Robertson, one of the most famous televangelists on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). To cut it short, Jim always liked the idea of becoming a televangelist, and, by God’s grace, he ended up working with Pat.
Jim and Tammy pitched their idea of a Puppet Show program, The 700 Club. In 1969, the show went on air on CBN, and the couple became instant stars. On the opening night of the show, Tammy greeted Jim with the news of her pregnancy. And six months later, while Jim ran the show, Tammy was confined to her bedroom. It’s worth noting that, while Jim performed for himself, Tammy reveled in the “love” of the audience. She was a performer in the truest sense. That night, she called Rachel and said she wanted to sing and talk about issues that affect people’s daily lives. She didn’t want to do buffoonery but wanted to earn respect to be claimed as a serious artist.
In 1971, Pat invited Jim and Tammy to his house party, where the couple first encountered Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., founding pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Megachurch. At the party, the men talked about business while the women gossiped. But Tammy was not your usual woman. She wanted men to treat women equally, and so, without hesitation, she invaded the man’s territory. Tammy commented on Jerry’s homophobia and preached to the pastor that God loves all his children.
Jim believed Tammy had offended Jerry Falwell, and without his support, he wouldn’t be able to build his kingdom. Tammy made it clear to Jim that he might have big plans for himself, but she was an artist too. And she would perish if she didn’t perform. Tammy condemned Jerry and accused him of spreading hatred while she believed in the business of healing people. She motivated Jim and explained that the CBN sky-rocketed in 4 years because of their show, and now it was time for them to build their own network.
The couple laid the foundation of Praise the Lord Club (PTL Club), and in 6 years, it became one of the leading Christian networks in the country.
The Fall of PTL Club
Tammy’s character (played incredibly by Jessica Chastain) wanted to talk about things no one was talking about. She offended the church and attacked its feminist and homosexual agenda. On the other hand, Jim was a narcissist who wanted to please people. He believed that wealth and luxury would make him the center of attention, so he collected money from believers in the form of “pledges.” Jim used the money to raise a kingdom of his own in God’s name. With PTL’s capital, he founded Heritage Village and expanded it to include the Heritage USA theme park, a modern Jerusalem of his own.
The hypocrisy of Jim Bakker was revealed when Tammy saw him getting close to his right-hand man in PTL, John Wesley Fletcher. Jim hid his homosexuality from the world, but Tammy knew it. But she didn’t mind. She believed the world was large enough for all the children of God. But what did bother her was that Jim started ignoring her. Devoid of love and affection, Tammy found comfort in her music composer, Gary. When Jim found out about Tammy cheating on him, his ego was hurt. He made Tammy confess to her sins on live television while the treacherous man kept his secrets in a locker.
The secular media hustled to expose the perpetrator, Jim Bakker, who was stealing money from innocent believers. Jim kept on raising pledges to raise his heritage. However, the journalist finally got something to expose Jim. And this time, even Tammy couldn’t save him or his Heritage house of cards.
In 1985, Jerry Falwell finally got impressed by Jim’s labor and accepted his hustle. Like an authoritarian, he demanded Jim to support Vice President Bush in the ’88 election. Jerry believed that his support of the president would help him get rid of the LGBT community and get tax-exempt status for the church.
On the other hand, Tammy wanted to keep politics out of the church. To send a message to Falwell, Tammy organized a close-talk with Steve Pieters, who proudly came out of the closet. Falwell was apparently offended, and he was also envious of PTL’s 20 million daily viewers. He was looking for an opportunity to attack Tammy and Jim Bakker.
The moment arrived when a woman, “The Shrieker,” called PTL and accused Jim and Fletcher of the alleged rape. Jim cheated on Tammy after her affair with Gary to make himself feel manly. Later, he paid the girl (Jessica Hanh) with the money that came from PTL donors, and Charles Shepherd from The Observer got wind of the story. He exposed Jim’s scandal.
Amidst the scandal, Jerry Falwell, a wolf in sheep’s skin, offered help. He persuaded Jim to let him become a temporary minister at the PTL club. However, as soon as Falwell took charge, he made a deal with Fletcher to expose Jim’s homosexual advances. With enough evidence in hand, Falwell mocked the Bakkers in front of the media and revealed Jim’s fiscal irregularities. (How Jim used the donor’s money for his own selfish use).
After Jim was exposed and went on trial, the Bakker empire fell into ruins. Jerry Falwell failed to save PTL from bankruptcy, and it was downhill from there.
‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ Ending, Explained
Jim was sentenced to 120 years in prison, while Tammy lived deprived of all her prosperity and richness. She struggled to return to television. In one of the ending sequences, Tammy approached a producer, Stephen, in Hollywood. She pitched her puppet show to the producer of the modern violence film “The Squad.” Stephen subtly suggested Tammy reach out to some Christian network for her kind of palette, but after the scandal, they didn’t want her. Rejected by Hollywood, Tammy returned home, where a few teenagers made fun of her makeup. She dealt with it bravely, but it was a hard life for her.
After her affair with Gary was exposed, Tammy feared that Jim would give her a divorce and she would end up like her mother. But a transformed Tammy, in the end, filed a divorce herself and finally liberated herself from the clutches of a narcissist. She attended Rachel’s funeral, where Fred gave her the coat Tammy gifted to her late mother. It touched Tammy’s heart and gave her new hope to fight and struggle.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” she believed. Tammy got an invitation from Oral Roberts School of Divinity to sing at their event. With a bit of doubt and hesitation, Tammy arrived in Tusla to perform.
Tammy’s scene in the changing room might remind the viewers of the end of Raging Bull. If one sees Jake La Motta and Tammy Faye as flawed people, they might find an uncanny resemblance in these characters. Martin Scorsese, from time to time, has given us a plethora of characters who are flawed or sinners, yet they try to live through the day. After a failed boxing career, Jake La Motta became a nightclub performer. In his character cycle, he attained popularity, lost everything in the way, and then redeemed himself as a stand-up comedian. Scorsese saw poetry in a sinner, and coincidentally, Tammy’s end was the same, somehow.
Tammy sought forgiveness from God for getting lost in the world’s temptations (her luxurious life), but she wanted to redeem herself. She went to the stage, and with the belief in God’s power, she performed with all her might. For the audience, it was a woman standing on a stage under the spotlight giving melody and words to God’s message. While in Tammy’s mind, she had a whole choir to support her performance. It was belief and Faith as an artist that made her feel strong and radiate a divine aura. It moved people and compelled them to cheer and stand for her. The Eyes of Tammy Faye ended with Tammy Faye’s performance.
Tammy Faye renewed her work in the ministry, embracing the LGBT+ community and all the people in need until she died in 2007.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a 2021 Biographical film directed by Michael Showalter. It portrays the life of Tammy Faye Bakker.