The Neon Bible (1995) - full transcript

While on a train, a teenage boy thinks about his life and the flamboyant aunt whose friendship acted as an emotional shield from his troubled family. This film evokes the haunting quality of memory while creating a heartfelt portrait of a boy's life in a rural 1940s Southern town.

People came to see us
that Christmas.

They were nice, those people.

They brought me things:

a wooden train,

some candy,

a book of bible stories
from Reverend Watkins.

But there was no snow.

No, not that year.




Then that spring,
Aunt Mae came to live with us.

Next to the train,
I remember Aunt Mae most.

I don't remember any children
of my own age

comin' 'round that Christmas.

As a matter of fact,

I don't remember seeing
any other children at all.

- Night-night.
- Thanks again.


Had no right to dress that way,

You deliberately hurt me...

and all of Frank's friends.

If I knew you were
gonna act this way...

I would've never let you
come live with us.

But, Sarah, honey,

I didn't know they were
gonna take on like that.

I mean, I've worn this gown...

in front of audiences
from Charleston to New Orleans.

I forgot to show you
my clippin's, didn't I?

Just look at those notices.

Those notices are superb,

particularly about this gown.

Let's go.

Look, Aunt Mae,

on the stage

that gown may have been
quite successful,

But you don't know
what it's like

to live in a small town
like this.

And if Frank heard
about things like this,

he wouldn't let you stay here.

So don't ever do that
to me again.

"Mae Morgan, popular singer
at the Rivoli theatre."

You know, David, once,
a duke kissed my hand

and he asked me to marry him
and live with him in Europe.

Then he drank wine
right out of my slipper.

He must have been drunk?

What he know
about a duke, anyway?




Honey, I've played 'em all.
Believe me.

I don't want her here!

Frank, she's
got no place else to go!

You better run on in, honey,

before Poppa
blows my brains out.

Good night, Aunt Mae.

Good night, honey.

Hey, now!


David, honey, will you
bring me the shampoo bottle

from the closet?

That little green one?


This is little David.

Hello, little David.



Do you think
they'll get serious?

Not if he has to drink wine
out of her slipper.

He'll never live long enough
to marry her.


Nah, I think it'll be
good for her.

Come on, "Franchot".

Okay, Aunt Mae.

"Miss Jean Harlow",
if you please!

She was my only playmate.

And mother was glad
we were such good friends.




Come on out here
with us tonight.

Well, I think we will.

Well, I'm glad
I've got your--

You mean
those little holes there?


He carried on
with Aunt Mae

all through that summer

and into part of the fall.

Then... one day...

George didn't
come around any more.

It's your turn, Aunt Mae.

I'm sorry, honey.

You bastard, George.






-You've been crying.
-No, I haven't!

Can you fight?

Can you jump?


-Can't you do anything?

Aw, you're just a sissy!

You shouldn't have
taken him, Frank!

He's gotta play with other kids!

Staying with her ain't healthy.
It ain't healthy!

You louse!

Bruce's mom made me
stay on the porch

till Poppa came!

All right, David. All right.

Never you mind, honey,
just never mind.

I'll sleep with you
tonight, David.

Would you like that?

I couldn't sleep with Frank,
not tonight.


Hey, just like Franchot Tone.


Come on in, Frank.


Light it up!
Come on, burn that nigger!

Burn him!

I ain't goin' in there,
it's hotter than hell!


Mother, Poppa's here!

Good, does he have
the money?


-What's that?
-Seeds, Sarah.



What are they for?

I'm gonna grow things...

on the hill.

Well, that's crazy!

Nothing'll grow there.

Anyway, what'd you
buy them with?

The money from the gas station.

-All of it?
-All of it.

You take those seeds back
tonight, Frank!

You get that money back,

There is no food!
We gotta eat!

You've got a son to feed!

There's plenty of money
to be made up in them hills,

plenty money!

We got no money!

Well, dammit,

I can spend my own money,
like I want!

You want money?
You want some money?

Then, go down to barroom
and sell some of Mae's jewelry!

Plenty of women down there
like that cheap kind of stuff!

You call Aunt Mae
what you want to!

I know what you think of her!

We've got a son to feed!

We gotta eat! We need money!

Aunt Mae!

Aunt Mae!

I'm gonna plant
those seeds, you hear me?

I'm gonna plant 'em!

She gonna die, Aunt Mae?

No, honey.

No, she just lost a tooth...

and her dignity, that's all.

Where's Poppa?

I'll go find him.

How is she?

She'll be all right, David.

But what about Poppa, Aunt Mae?

Don't worry 'bout him.

No place else
for him to go.

He'll show up.

Tell me about the stage,
Aunt Mae.

Tell me about Biloxi.

Honey, I felt lucky
if I got a job

in some little dance hall
from Mobile or Baton Rouge.

But I just love the stage,

I just love the spotlight,

the costumes,

feeling the beat of the band
underneath me.

I never sang good, honey,
I knew that.

But when I was...


I looked good in clothes...

and I could always carry a tune.

But you get...

older, honey.

You get old.

But you keep on goin'.

You keep on thinkin',

"One day they'll see me...

I'll cut a record."

One day they'll say,
"Hey, there goes Mae Morgan."

It's just like a drug is
what it is, hon.

And when it doesn't happen... hurtin'.

You hurt right in there.

Then some guy thinks
you're awful nice.

Yeah, so does the next guy,

and next, and next...

till you get to be

just kind of a used up
piece of... goods.

You know?

No honest man wants anything
to do with me.

And at that last job...

It was just the crummiest.

You know, someone threw
a bottle at me?

"Watch out, Mae!"
and then wham!

You imagine that?

Well, the girls...

the dancers, you know they--

they all got together,

they bought me
my ticket down here.

Down here...

just a big old sore thumb.

You know that, David.

I just went on the stage
to show off,

'cause nobody ever paid
any attention to me otherwise.

It does hurt, though.

I just want to be happy...

with you all here.


We all have our hurts don't we?

Big and small.

Don't pay me no mind.

Your old Aunt Mae just
ain't feeling too good tonight.

Come sleep with me, honey,
will you?

I'm feeling kind of
lonesome tonight.

Do you ever pray
before you go to sleep, David?


Well, we'll pray tonight.

We'll pray that your mother
feels well tomorrow...

that nothin' happens
to your Poppa...

and that you and I won't
hurt too bad tomorrow...

or ever again.


It has been wonderful
to be in this town

with Bobbie Lee, my friends.

God bless all of you.

May the heavens
shine down upon you,

Christian and sinner alike.

You are all our brothers
and sisters in Christ.

By now there is no need for me

to introduce Bobbie Lee
to y'all.

You have come to love him.

Good crowd.

Good money.

Everybody loves
a dedicated Christian.

Sinners fear one.

You have shown that you
love this chosen man.

Here is your Bobbie Lee.

Here we are
gathered together again

for another glorious night
of conversion and salvation.

I was prayin' right before
I came up here...

that the testimonies
would be many.

I was prayin'
that more lost souls

would give themselves up
to the glory of Jesus Christ.

I feel in my soul that
these prayers will be answered,

that sinners will
surrender to Him

by the hundredfold.

He don't care who you are.

He don't care if you are rich
or if you are poor.


He don't care if you're
a little baby...

or a grandfather.


All he cares about...

is if you got a soul
to give him.


That's what Jesus
cares about!


That is all.

What more could he want?


He don't want
earthly riches.

They lead to lust!

They lead to sin!

Praise God!
Tell it, Bobbie Lee!

He owns the universe!


He wants for nothin'...


your souls.


I feel Jesus in this tent.

I feel him today!

Do you feel him?

Do you feel Jesus?

Raise your arms to heaven!

Do you feel Jesus?

Do you feel Jesus?

If you feel him,
raise your arms to Jesus!

Praise the Lord!

Today our nation is havin'

a mortal struggle
with the devil.

In our cities, our girls are
giving themselves up

to the oldest profession.

They go where they want.

To dances and honky-tonk
at army bases

without a restraining hand.

The devil is
tempting these women,

drawing them into his web!

When they're dancing,

do you think they're
thinking about Jesus?

You can bet your life
they're not!

Jesus has no place
on the dance floor!

No, sir, that is the playground
of the devil!



are you fightin'
with the devil?

Are you falling
under his influence?

How many other of you women

are stifling tears
of repentance?

- Sweet Lord Jesus!
- Don't be afraid!

Let Jesus know
you're sorry.

Cry to Him for mercy!

I'm Mrs. Ollie Wingate,

and for a long time,

for a long time,

I felt like I needed
the help of Jesus!


- Most of y'all know who I am.
- Praise the Lord!

I-- I own the grocery on Main.


But-- but I am resigned
to the Lord.

I wanna repent...

and be converted to His way!

Weren't those words
of inspiration?

- There they are!
- Praise the Lord!

They wanna dedicate their lives
to Jesus!

What a wonderful turn
their lives have taken tonight!

Let's hear from this boy!

My name is
Billy Sunday Thompson, and...

I'd like to dedicate myself
to Jesus!

Those are the words of a babe!

- Amen!
- Testify!

Testify! Come to Jesus!

Finally come to Jesus!

Open up your hearts!

Let the light come pouring in!

Walk with Him
into the Garden of Eden!

And feel the strength of Jesus
comin' into your souls!


December 7th, 1941--

a date which will live...
in infamy--

the United States of America...

was suddenly
and deliberately attacked...

by naval and air forces
of the Empire of Japan.

Last night, Japanese forces
attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces
attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces

the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese
attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese
attacked Midway Island.

And our interests
are in grave danger.

With confidence
in our armed forces,

with the unbounding

of our people,

We will gain
the inevitable triumph--

So help us God.


-Look at those two go!
-Swing her Aunt Mae!

You've seen how Miss Morgan
can dance.

Well, she can sing too!

Flora, I haven't sung
in a hundred years.

So, she's gonna sing
for us right now,

Miss Mae Morgan!


-You guys know "My Romance"?

Okay. Thank you.

Thank you.

Well, I'll tell you one thing:

It ain't gonna be
"God Bless America."

Okay, let's do it.

Thank you, thank you.

-You're good.
-Well, I used to sing.

We should talk.

Thank you.

You were so funny with Flora.

You know,

I never thought I'd
be happy here.

The sun isn't prettier
anywhere else

than it is here in Italy.

It's the brightest
and yellowest I ever saw.

I'm staying in a farmhouse
a thousand years old.

They've got olives, too.

There's been some
pretty heavy fighting.

I marched along the Appian Way.

That's a very famous road
in history,

so, tell your teacher.

And, I saw where
the pope lives, too.

I miss every one of you,

more than I ever
thought I would.

But most of
the fighting's over now.





Then the war was over.

And all the soldiers came home.

I pledge allegiance
to the Flag

of the United States of America,

and to the Republic
for which it stands,

one nation, indivisible...

I thank the Lord that
I have this struggle coming up.

I wouldn't want it
any other way.

I think...

I think I can appreciate
the other man's position.

But I think I can do more
for my fellow man,

having experienced
the Christian power

of God's love.

His love is not like human love.

His love is straight...
and true.

For all God-fearing people...

...know His way.

And live... His will.

If you were different
from anybody in town,

you had to get out.

That's why everybody was
so much alike.

They used to tell us in school
to think for yourselves,

but you couldn't do that
in town.

You had to think what your
father thought all his life,

and that was the way
everybody thought.

They're the ones!

Them and those damn

Don't go
to the Union meeting, Frank.

You can't lose this job, too.

Sarah, we're fighting
for our lives.

I'm fightin' for you.

They're the people that are
keeping us poor.

Those damn rich bastards!

David, just look!

Big cabbages!

Big, big cabbages
your Poppa grew.

Say it again, David.

It's so beautiful.

"Read from
some humbler poet,

"Whose songs gushed
from his heart,

"As showers
from the clouds of summer,

Or tears
from the eyelids started;"

"Who, through long days
of labor,

"And nights devoid of ease,

"Still heard in his soul
the music

Of wonderful melodies."

"Then read from
the treasured volume

"The poem of thy choice,

"And lend to the rhyme
of the poet

The beauty of thy voice."

"And the night shall be
filled with music

"And the cares
that infest the day,

"Shall fold their tents,
like the Arabs,

And as silently steal away."

You goin' to high school, boy?

No, I got a job
in Mr. Williams' drugstore.


you're the first person
in our family

to finish grade school, anyway.

I'm real proud of you.

Why, Aunt Mae, it's a watch!

That must have cost
at least 30 dollars.

Much, much more.

You can ride up here with us
if you want, David.

No, Mae,

there ain't enough room
for him up here.

I bet he'd rather
ride in the back

than up here with us.

Look, honey,

go wait there
by the path for me.

I'm gonna stay here with Clyde
a little while.

Now, don't you go off,
you hear!

I don't wanna go up
that path alone.

I won't be long!

Clyde, what are you doin'?

Cut it out!


You sing so bad, I can tell!


Good night, Clyde!

Where's Flora, Sarah?

Sarah, where's Flora?



She told me I was crazy, Mae.

I mean, right to my face.

She wasn't here...
30 minutes.

And I've been sitting here...


...for you two to come home.

Yes, Flora wasn't here...

...thirty minutes.

Maybe it's this one.

It could be this grave, Mae.

Mae! Hey Mae!

I'm comin', Clyde honey!

Look, David, honey,
I gotta go.

We're playing a wedding
at the county seat.

It's real good money.

Get out!

Now,Gangbusters ,

presented in cooperation
with police

and federal law enforcement

throughout the United States...

The only national program
that brings you

authentic police case

Gangbusters presents

"The Case of
the Appointment with Death."

But a courageous police woman
waited for a deadly killer,

whom police didn't even know.

Gangbusters has asked
the honorable

Frederick H. Block, Assistant
United States attorney

for the Southern District
of New York,

to narrate tonight's case.

Thank you,
and good evening.

What are they doin', Aunt Mae?

They're burning books,

They're burning
Gone With the Wind.

The sly and the tricky
in this community,

want you to read these
licentious books.

These dirty books!

All the dirtier, 'cause they're
gonna make movies out of 'em.

And anyone who doesn't know it
is defying God

and is an agent of the devil!

David, it's just
so wonderful!

It just...

You can just feel the light
goin' through you.

Just go through your
whole body, David.

Soldiers comin' home
married to foreign women.

We should be lookin' out

and seein' the good,
American blood in the valley

won't lose its purity.

Chinese women,
pregnant women,

women who sing with bands,

are corrupting America's sons.

How can you listen
to that trash, Sarah?


Who do you think
the murderer is, David?


Reverend Watkins...

is a good Christian man.


Do you have this month's
Modern Romance?

I asked if you had
this month's Modern Romance.

Yes, I know.

I don't know if we have it,
but I'll look.


Do you work here all the time?

Yes, I do.

All the time's the store's open

and from 30 minutes
before it does.

How old are you?



And a half.

You're from out of the valley,
aren't you?


We came here
to take care of my grandpa.

He got sick.

If he gets better, we're
gonna go home again.


-That's where you're from?

You ever been there?

No, I've never been
out of the valley.

Well, if you ever do get out,
don't go there.

This place is prettier.

I forgot to tell you...




And a half.

Aunt Mae,

I saw a girl in the store
I really liked.

Why didn't you
ask her out, Dave?

Suppose she won't
go out with me?

Don't worry, Dave,
she will.

You're a nice lookin' boy.

Ask her!

Dishpan hands
and a date with a Girl Scout.

- Good night, darling.
- Good night, Mother.

Happy dreams.

Good night,
Mr. Beragon.

Thank you for everything.

I trust that we may meet again
very soon.

I hope so.

Thank you
for a divine evening,

Mrs. Pierce.

I trust that I might
see you again

in the not too distant future.
Good night.

- Come on, small fry.
- I'm coming.

Come on, never mind.
Hurry up!

For heaven's sake!

Leave something on me.
I might catch cold.

I was just thinking.
Not about you. Come on!

That's a very cute
youngster of yours.

Yes, isn't she?

I thought you had two?


Veda's convinced me that
alligators have the right idea.

They eat their young.

Let's go for a walk.

Let's go up and see
those houses

that they're buildin', David.

I thought
your grandfather

wanted you home?

We won't be there long.

I just wanna see.

I liked the movie.

So did I.

Where are they?

Where's the old guy keep 'em?

Under the counter?

Are they under the counter?


You know...


God, you're dumb!


I don't know.

Geez, he's so dumb!


We goin' outside,


I've brought your medicine
from the drugstore, Miss Scover.

Come in, boy...

while I get the money.


There you go, baby.

Lie down there, baby.


How old are you boy?


Do you deliver at night?

Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Next time...

...come back Thursday.

Come in, boy...

while I get my purse.


...I can't.

Just for a little while.

It's damp out here.


Aunt Mae...

How do I look?

You'll be a fine lookin' boy
in about a year or so.

Your body's gettin' some lines.

Your face is gettin'
to look like a man's, too.


Come and eat!


Go eat!

How was work today?

Just slow, but okay, I guess.

- What's the matter?
- Nothin'.

David, I have
something to tell you.

I got a letter from Clyde today.


Wanna read it?


Clyde says he thinks
he can get us a good job...

a permanent one...

in Nashville.

On radio and records.

What do you think of that, hon?

I don't know, Aunt Mae.

What does it mean?

What about me and mother?

But that's just it, hon.

If I get a job,
I can send for you both.

Clyde says...

he says we can make
a lot of money.

But what am I gonna do
with mother?

I work all day,
I can't leave her here alone!

Honey, she's no trouble.


...quit your job.

If I quit my job,

I'll lose about the best
I could get anywhere.

No, you quit your job
at the store.

And then you'll have time
to stay home

with mother all day.

And in a week,
no more than two...

you'll get those tickets
to Nashville from me.


there's nothing to worry about,

David, this is
such a big chance for me.

I can sing on the radio
and records.

I'll be making so much money

that you can quit your job
and join me.

I'm taking a bus out of here
day after tomorrow.

Don't worry.

It won't be long before you
and mother

get a train ticket from me,
you hear?

Now, you tell Mr. Williams
tomorrow, you wanna quit.


You see how they're growin'?

From the tiny little seeds
your Poppa planted.

They're growing up all over.

But I saw them
in the clearing first.

I saw them first.

Everything was changing.


Aunt Mae,

and then Jo Lynne left.

What's the matter with you?

We only went out once!

-Wait, Jo Lynne.
-Let me go!

Jo Lynne, we can get married.
The state'll marry us.

Let me go!

You're crazy, like your mother!

Well, good night, David.

I have to quit, Mr. Williams.

Are you makin' fun, David?

No, Mr. Williams,
I really mean it.

I have to leave because

Aunt Mae is going to Nashville

and there's no one
to look after mother but me.

You need to earn money, David.

You can't do it alone.
She could get help.

Reverend Watkins could help.

No one is gonna take my mother
to the crazy house!

Or the poor folks asylum!

I won't let anyone touch her!

All right, David.

All right.

Thank you, Mr. Williams.

It's the cold breeze, hon.

Always makes my eyes water.


Ten, eleven, twelve.




Hello, son.

My name's David.

What do you want?

I'm here on behalf
of the state, son.

Now, you know your mother needs
a better place to stay.

You can't look after her
by yourself.

With your aunt here
it was different.

She isn't going with you.

She isn't here.

Now, son, you don't understand.

I'll get her myself.

She's not up there!

I wanna see what's done
is best for us all.

You can't come
in here like that!

Get the hell out of this house,
you bastard!

I won't listen to any more
of your profanity, boy.

Get out!

I didn't ask
the conductor

where this train went.

I know I should.

But I just gave him
Mr. Williams' money

and told him to let me off

where it didn't pay
for the ride anymore.

Maybe they're up
at the house now, too.

But I'm not scared now,

with the train
getting this far away.

Maybe I'll get a job.

Maybe I'll save some money

and go to Nashville
to look for Aunt Mae.

I guess they think that's
where I am.

I guess they think
I went to look for her.