Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 9:44 am | Fair 57º

 
 
 
 

Cinema in Focus: ‘Mud’

The classic tale resembles the story written by Mark Twain about the Mississippi life

3 Stars — Troubling

A story of life on the Mississippi is well known in American literature. As we traveled with Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and the runaway slave Jim, we experienced both the danger and the excitement of an adventure few young men could have experienced. This is also true of Jeff Nichols’ tale Mud.

Telling the story of two young teens whose families live off the fish and clams of the river’s waters, they come upon a fugitive living on a forbidden island in a forsaken boat. And as in the earlier adventure, the danger is real as these two boys are forever changed.

With Nichols as both director and screenwriter, the cinematic journey is told with visual artistry that weaves together the river’s currents with the muddy shore and fearful superstitions with romantic myth. The two boys are Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Having an unusual amount of freedom that takes them beyond their young teen experience, both boys are fascinated when a cabin cruiser is discovered lodged in the trees of an island Ellis’ father has forbidden him to visit. This rule is for his own protection, not only from the currents of the river but also from the venom of the cottonmouths that slither in the island’s stagnant pools.

This is only the beginning of the adventure. They discover that the boat they want to make their own already has a resident. As if appearing from the mist, they meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey). They do not realize at first that he is running from the law, but they find his superstitious beliefs as expressed by the crosses in the heels of his boots and his specially protective shirt fascinating. When he asks the boys for help in providing him with food, Ellis agrees in spite of Neckbone’s objections. Befriending Mud as Tom and Huck had befriended Jim is the center of the tale.

Also involved in the story are Ellis’ father, Senior (Ray McKinnon), and mother, Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson), as well as Mud’s adopted father Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard). Along with these characters is the romantic interest in this river tale, the beautiful Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). The complex relationship that Mud and Juniper have is not only central to the reason Mud is in hiding but also provides a backdrop for Ellis’ adolescent crush on the tempting and teasing Mae Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant).

The moral lessons of the film lack any point of true resolution, and there are no characters that exhibit wisdom or compassion. The behaviors of young and old are constantly self-serving with a clear hope for but lack of true love. This lack of morality or concern for others results in a story with confused messages that are unresolved in its conclusions.

Although evil is defeated in a final battle as we would expect of such a tale, it is not clear that the battle between good and evil was understood or in any way changed the boys or Mud in a positive way. It is this final confusion that leaves us wondering in what way this engaging but directionless tale can enrich our lives.

Discussion:

» When boys are in their early teens, they can be easily confused by the behaviors of those who are supposed to be their parents and guardians. How do you think Neckbone’s uncle will impact the sexual lives of both Neckbone and Ellis? How do you think Ellis’ parents’ dissatisfaction will impact them about their view of the meaning of marriage? Why do you answer as you do?

» The dangerous game that Juniper plays with Mud’s devotion is seen even after he has taken on a life devoted to protect her and avenge her honor. Why do you think she would choose such behaviors? Is she evil in setting up men for Mud to punish and even kill? What basis is there for your answer?

» When no one in the film is healthy or moral, the lack of a clear good is offset by an atrocious example of evil. Do you believe the world is reflected more by the characters in this film or by people who live lives of honesty and love? Why do you answer as you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.