Mud (2012)

Going through various experiences and coming out of them bruised yet wiser about life and its peculiarities is what most Coming-of-Age films aim to portray, and Mud excels in this task. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, the film tells the story of two 14-year-old boys: Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). They encounter a strange man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) hiding on a small island on the Arkansas River.

Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) encounter Mud (Matthew McConaughey)
Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) encounter Mud (Matthew McConaughey)

Despite the classic linear dramatic structure of the narrative (introducing the characters, the complications and challenges they face and the denouement), Mud offers an intellectual challenge. The story is interesting enough to capture and hold the interest of the film’s audience and, while the rapid action scenes are reserved for the last thirty or so minutes, one never feels bored.

The character of Mud, an idealist who hasn’t lost the kid within, adds to the suspense as one tries to figure out just what kind of a character he is.  An unlikely role model, he becomes one to Ellis, an idealist himself (but then, aren’t all children?).

The aesthetic qualities of the picture deserve some recognition. By using a filming technique called “rack focus” which provides depth, combined with frequent close-up shots of the actors’ faces showing their reactions to what they’re experiencing,  the viewer’s involvement with the protagonists and their personalities is increased. At the same time, the locales where the film was shot and its overall stylistic suggest a resemblance to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer – especially considering that a river is such a notable backdrop for both stories. Of course the musical score of Mud, with its predominately backwoods twang, helps set the appropriate time period —  adding a certain American feel to the picture.

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The film owes a lot of its appeal to the convincing performance of young Tye Sheridan in the role of Ellis.  In the 2013 David Gordon Green film, Joe, there’s a somewhat similar narrative about unlikely role models. The narrative is focused exclusively on the delineation of Ellis’s character, emphasizing the Coming-of-Age experiences he undergoes. His display of courage and self-ascertained behaviour make a real impression and earned him my respect, an impression I’m sure will be the case with many who view the film.

Ellis and Mud
Ellis and Mud

Tye Sheridan interprets the turmoil his character goes through in an authentic manner, making viewers question their own definition of “the right thing to do”.  Thanks to his acting talent, the characterization of Ellis comes across naturally, and one gets involved with the choices he makes.

Many of us face moments in our lives when the way things are supposed to be (friendship forever, all-consuming eternal love, etc.) collide with the harshness of a reality that’s much different. Mud offers its viewers an opportunity to witness the growing awareness of life’s realities that its protagonists experience.

Rack focus technique / Tye Sheridan in Mud
Rack focus technique / Tye Sheridan in Mud

My only frustration with the film was its finale, which somehow undermined the great impact of the otherwise well-told story. An open-ended dénouement would have been much more suitable than the “Fine-Tuning” the director/screenwriter opted for.

Mud is one of the best Coming-of-Age films I have seen, and I don’t hesitate to extend my highest recommendation.

Mud – Official Trailer


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