Did I want to watch a film called ‘Mud’? The name did not inspire much and I kept forgetting why it was in our ‘should be watched’ list in the first place! The only show we could watch was in the morning, I had returned from Delhi late the previous night, did I want to wake up early? Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon…….hmmmmm, that’s easy on the eye if nothing else! Last but not least, my husband is usually great with his movie recommendations, so off we went.

Mud is a slice from the life of Ellis – a young teenage boy who lives on a river in Arkansas. Ellis is 14 and best friends with Neckbone, another young teen with whom he plans and executes fun and sometimes dangerous escapades. Neckbone lives with his uncle Galen who salvages junk from the riverbed. Galen is a relaxed and fun uncle whose single lifestyle does not come in the way of him taking care of his nephew. Ellis’shome is different, there are palpable undercurrents between his parents. 

The film opens with Ellis sneaking out to meet Neckbone and them taking out Ellis’s fathers boat out into the big river, much further than they are allowed to. The destination is an island in which Neckbone has discovered something exciting.The two boys run into the thick cover of trees to gaze wide eyed at a boat which had floated to and got stuck on the top of a tree during floods.They climb up and are fascinated by the interiors and ready to claim the boat for themselves when they suddenly see a packet of bread and realize someone was living on the boat! They scramble down and rush to their boat and realize someone had been to their boat. The shoe prints on the sand bear the imprint of a cross at the heels. A man with a fishing rod is seen standing a little away from them and the boys realize they have found the inhabitant of the boat. Neckbone is scared and wants to leave but Ellis is intrigued and walks across to talk to the stranger. When asked his name, the man says, ‘Just call me Mud’.

Over the next few weeks, a strange bond develops between Ellis and Mud. The latter is an outlaw, having killed the man who had married and abused Juniper, the love of Mud’s life. He says he is in hiding but plans to leave soon, with Juniper. Ellis and Neckbone get completely involved in helping Mud plan his escape, contacting Juniper on behalf of Mud and braving the wrath of a group of bounty hunters on the lookout for Mud. The bounty hunters are led by the father and brother of the man he had killed. In the midst of all this, Ellis has his own share of growing up to do with a crush on an older girl and his parents growing mutual dissent. Does Mud actually escape with Juniper? What happens to the boys?Well that would be telling! 

Why would I write about this film? I think because it contains the most wonderful portrayal of human relationships and emotions. The film is not just a coming of age story of a teenager but a sensitive tale of the glorious highs and crushing lows that every human being goes through. There are no black and white people in Mud, only many layered characters. You start disliking a character only to realize there is much more to him (or her) than you thought. At times, the tension in a scene is unbearable, done so subtly that you do not even realize when you have reached the edge of your seat! 

The performances are just right. A dirty, matted haired, broken toothed Matthew McConaughey is a surprise; so is Reese Witherspoon in her small role as Juniper. The show stealers are Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone. The supporting cast do a competent job. There is no performance that hits you in the middle of the eye, everyone seems to flow along with the story line, just like the river that is present in almost every scene.

Jeff Nichols who wrote and directed Mud, began developing the story in 2000 while he was still a student. Mud premiered on May 26, 2012 at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Though it did not win, some film critics considered it one of their favorites of the film festival. Please do go and watch the film if you like good cinema. 

Warning:It is not an entertainer in the true Hollywood sense. No fancy action and car chases, no flashy clothes and gadgets. Just a tale about honest old fashioned southern folks…………….


Copyright© Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa May 2013

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