‘My Days of Mercy’ is a Powerful Lesbian Drama with a Political Message

Ellen Page and Kate Mara have a lesbian film together?! This was my first thought on discovering My Days of Mercy. My second thought: Why the hell have I never heard of My Days of Mercy? It came out in 2017. It’s exactly my type of film. Yet I only found out about it by a chance search of ‘lesbian’ on Netflix. (now streaming only on Amazon in the US)

Page and Mara are big names in their own right. Together, they are dynamite. And yet – despite their starring roles – My Days of Mercy is little more than a footnote on both actors’ Wikipedia pages. In the summaries of Page and Mara’s careers, supporting straight characters are given much greater prominence than lesbian leads.

My Days of Mercy is a gritty drama with a political message – hinged upon a same-sex romance. This is what makes it such a powerful film. It is also why the film didn’t get a fraction of the attention it deserved upon release. So, to balance the scales, here’s why you should watch it.

Lucy Moro (Ellen Page) is an anti-death penalty activist. With her older sister Martha and kid brother Ben, she travels from state to state in a battered RV to protest. For the Moro family, this fight is personal as well as political. Their dad Simon is on death row for murdering their mom eight years ago. Martha’s belief in his innocence is unshakeable. So absolute is her faith in their father that she sleeps with a sleaze bag lawyer to secure him ‘pro-boning’ representation.

Lucy is less sure. Directionless and jobless, she is swept along in the current of Martha’s certainty. Her life revolves around protests and prisons. And wherever they go, the American Institute of Homicide Survivors follows. This is how she meets Mercy (Kate Mara), again and again.

Like Romeo and Juliet, Lucy and Mercy belong to two warring factions. Even the possibility of their friendship is frowned upon. There is a visible divide between the two camps.

The anti-death penalty group is led by activists of color. It’s a grassroots campaign, complete with hand-painted signs and gospel songs. In their tight-knit camp – where gas money is pooled – there is little chance of privacy or solitude. Inside cramped campervans, they’re all living on top of each other.

The American Institute of Homicide Survivors, on the other hand, gives off the unmistakable aura of money. Their members wear police uniforms, pearls, and perfectly coiffed hair. Blonde, feminine, and expertly tailored, Mercy would not look out of place at the Republican National Convention. After her father’s fellow officer was killed on duty, she is a fierce advocate of the death penalty. And yet Mercy is drawn irresistibly to Lucy.

A shared cigarette, sneaking out to a bar, secret Skype calls – these stolen moments offer a welcome escape from their everyday lives. Mercy is the first person we see Lucy open up to. As their relationship blossoms, so too does Lucy. Caught up in this romance, she is giddy and carefree – almost unrecognizable as the sullen young woman we first met. And Mercy, for the first time, begins to question what she wants from life.

Though the plot is compelling, My Days of Mercy can be difficult to watch. Between scenes, we see Instagram-worthy shots of prisoners’ final meals, captioned by their crimes. This film takes an unflinching look at America’s criminal justice system – and what it means to be caught on either side.

The Moros are trapped in a cycle of poverty and despair. Their father’s sentence is constantly hanging over the family’s heads. As is the horrifying possibility of his guilt. The siblings are still living in the house where their mother died violently. The TV stand has been strategically positioned to cover the bloodstains; a new carpet is an unaffordable luxury. Campaigning against the death penalty takes up most of their energy and money.

My Days of Mercy can be a downer. But the electric chemistry between Page and Mara makes it impossible to look away. The sex scenes are indecently hot. Plus, the tenderness Lucy and Mercy share – in a world that is often cruel – lends the film some much-needed optimism. As a junior lawyer, Mercy pulls some strings – to help Lucy free her father, or find closure. For both women, it is more than just a fling. Though the relationship is not plain sailing.

Lucy’s Sleater-Kinney posters and endless supply of vests offered some not-so-subtle clues about her sexuality. Then there is the fact that – by her own admission – she wore a tux to prom. But for Mercy, this relationship is uncharted territory. She has stepped outside the tidy boundaries of her life’s path: a successful legal career, marriage to her boss, children, a big house with a white picket fence…

The question Lucy and the audience are left with is this: will Mercy continue to follow convention, or will she find the courage to follow her desires?

My Days of Mercy is now streaming on Amazon.