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Friday, June 20, 2014

The Mississippi Mud

Director Jeff Nichols calls Mud his modern day portrayal of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He admits that Twain’s works, where the Mississippi is treated more as a character than as a setting had always attracted him, which is why he wanted to spin a modern day tale around it. As has been the norm for the recent ‘Southern’ movies, it is based in a small town of Arkansas, where people do not zip down the roads in Mercedes Benz or shop at Bloomingdale’s and Barney’s. It is refreshing to see that American directors are finally holding up to the global audiences the reality of America with movies like Winter’s Bone, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hounddog, Monster’s Ball. While it is not entirely correct when we say that the southern states have always lagged behind economically after the Civil War, it is however true that some parts had to battle out the worst and is still doing so, something that isn’t always let out to the world. Most of these movies deal with poverty, dying towns, lack of jobs, violence in family, mirroring a very true picture of the small towns in the southern states. 

Mud is a coming-of-age drama, revolving around two 14 year old boys who seek adventure and thrill along the Mississippi. Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are Nichols’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who belong to the fishing community, from the small town of De Witt, Arkansas. Like typical 14 year olds, Ellis and Neckbone make grand plans to explore various places down the river, armed with a boat, flashlights and walkie-talkies. Their great adventure involves establishing ownership over an old boat that has been stuck surrealistically on a tree after a flood of the Mississippi. Once inside the boat, they however find it to be inhabited by the titular character – Mud, played brilliantly by Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey shows that he has moved over his Wedding Planner and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past days, and is ready to mete out striking performance, bringing a raw, desperate masculinity to Mud. 

The boys at first are both suspicious and enthralled by the stranger. With his snake tattoo, nails like the shape of a cross underneath his boots and most importantly his colourful stories about his life are what attract the boys to Mud. However they are a little wary of him too because of his coarse, unkempt appearance, and the pistol tucked at the back of his jeans, which they happen to catch a glimpse of. Mud befriends them eventually and tells the boys that he is waiting for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), his one true love since childhood. To Ellis and Neckbone, Mud is a charismatic and a romantic figure. He gives them the adult male attention which every teenage boy craves, makes them feel needed and important. He tells them that it is only with their help he can be successful with his quest – run away with Juniper to a better life in the boat. The boys help him, first with food, then with stealing every odd bit that could get the boat running and finally locating Juniper in the town and giving her a message on behalf of Mud. 

Adam Stone captured the life on Mississippi to perfection; the life on houseboats for fishermen and clam collectors, how harsh everyday existence can be and is for the community is depicted exquisitely through wide frame shots of the river. The island where Ellis and Neckbone meets Mud, is a magical, fantastical place, where boats are stuck up on trees, water moccasins run amok in creeks, friendships are created, and memories are made.

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