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Film / Tennessee

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Tennessee is a 2008 American drama film directed by Aaron Woodley, featuring Ethan Peck, Adam Rothenburg, and Mariah Carey. The film follows Carter (Rothenburg) and Ellis Armstrong (Peck), two brothers who grew up with and eventually fled their abusive father alongside their mother. Now in their adulthood, and a few years after their mother's death, Ellis comes down with terminal leukemia, which prompts Carter to take them both back to their home state of Tennessee in hopes of finding their estranged father so he can donate his bone marrow to save Ellis' life. Along the way they meet the beautiful waitress Krystal Evans (Carey), an aspiring singer who longs to get away from her abusive husband Frank so she can be free to pursue a life of singing.


Film contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Ron Armstrong, the boys' father, heavily abused Carter his whole life growing up, even to the point of socking him in the face because he picked the wrong hand in a "game" Ron had set up. However, some dialogue from Carter implies that Ron did occasionally show some genuine father-son affection for him, like the time where he took child Carter up the mountain to watch the passing on-coming planes.
  • The Alcoholic: You could count on one hand the number of scenes we see Carter not downing alcohol. Krystal calls him out on it, reminding him that he has a little brother who depends on him.
    • Ron was horrid example of this, as his frequent alcoholism led him to heavily abuse his family.
  • Ambiguously Brown: We don't know if Krystal is biracial like her actress. The police report heard on the radio describes Krystal as a "black female with blonde hair", so it's likely that she's a fully African-American woman, or Krystal really is biracial, but remnants of the one-drop rule are in effect.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: Ron turned out to have died six years prior, and Ellis succumbs to his illness. On a brighter note, he, in a way, gets his wish to "rest" upon his favourite mountain. Krystal succeeds in getting away from her husband and move to Nashville to pursue her much-wanted singing career, and the ending heavily implies that Carter reunites with his former high school girlfriend (also a final request from Ellis).
  • Car Chase: Carter, Ellis, and Krystal swap her '67 Mustang for a cheaper car so they can evade the Frank, who is a cop. They eventually get into a somewhat lengthy car chase, which ends with the trio abandoning the car and hopping onto a train that happens to be going to Tennessee.
  • Corrupt Cop: Downplayed. While we're not shown how morally and professionally Frank performs his job as a cop, he does put out an APB on Krystal's car without mentioning that it's his wife's car. Later when he does report Krystal's disappearance, he claims that she was kidnapped by Carter and Ellis.
  • Domestic Abuse: What Krystal goes through while living with Frank. He frequently has his gang-banging friends over, and forces Krystal to spend her already meager pay (including tips) to buy food and alcohol for them, and is all but stated to beat her if she puts up any objections.
    • Carter and Ellis' mother, who would be verbally and physically abused by Ron. Ron is in the middle of beating his wife for removing her wedding ring when the then-teenage Carter runs into the house and gives his father a well-deserved beating, after which he takes his mother and young Ellis far away.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the first few minutes of meeting Krystal, we see her taking silent pity upon Ellis when she sees that he doesn't have enough money for a coke, so she grabs a cup and tells one of her Jerkass co-workers to give him a refill. Ellis is left touched by this kind gesture.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: Krystal, an African-American woman working as a mistreated, underpaid waitress.
  • Extreme Doormat: Krystal puts up with Frank's abuse just so she doesn't infuriate him further. However, she'll sometimes at stand up to him, albeit unsuccessfully.
  • Heel Realization: Frank, upon helping reunite a young couple at a bar while searching for Krystal, sees the look of terror in the woman's eyes, and silently realizes that his atrocious behaviour is to blame for Krystal running out on him. When he finally tracks her down at a bar where she's performing "Right to Dream", he stays long enough to listen to her song, then silently gets up and leaves, deciding to let his wife go.
  • Hidden Depths: Despite being somewhat critical of his younger brother's obsession with photography, Carter himself is no slouch in that department. The photos of the mountains that he takes to Ellis at the hospital look like they were professionally shot.
  • Jerkass: With the exception of Ellis and Krystal, everyone else shown has varying shades of this.
    • Ron, the boys' father (see Abusive Parents above).
    • Frank (see Domestic Abuse above)
    • Krystal's boss and co-workers at the diner. The head waitress bullies her, the fry cook scolds her for taking too long to take the food order, and her boss threatens to fire when she (truthfully) tells the customers that he threw out their food order.
  • Karma Houdini: Aside from a beating from Carter, their father Ron never gets any real comeuppance for the many years of abusing his family. As if emphasize this, a newspaper clipping showing Ron's obituary claims that he passed away peacefully, and is now buried under a decent tombstone at a church cemetery. However, Carter's passive reaction to this serves to show that he's finally made peace with his past.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: Played with. Carter is first shown as a teenager in his final year of high school, while Ellis is shown to be a small child of about ten years old.
  • Missing Mom: Carter and Ellis' mother had died a few short years before the events of the film.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: The motel owner in Oklahoma becomes suspicious that Krystal would trade off her Mustang for a used, cheap car, and reports the car as stolen, inadvertently leading Frank back onto the trio's trail.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: The police report heard on the radio describes Kristal as "black female, blonde hair". This description is vague because at the mention of Krystal's race, people will likely be looking for a dark-skinned woman, not the very light-skinned, half-white Mariah Carey.
  • Token Trio:
    • Carter: Caucasian male
    • Ellis: Terminally ill Caucasian male
    • Krystal: African-American (or mixed Caucasian and African-American) female
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Of course Ellis, who is arguably the kindest and purest of the cast, died from his leukemia.

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