Love Theme Emerges Clear as Mud
- Thursday, April 25, 2013
DVD Release Date: August 6, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: April 26, 2013
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements, and smoking)
Run Time: 130 min
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Ray McKinnon, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon
Love can transcend and conquer all. Humans can't. The problem is that love has been entrusted to humans, and from this fact come the conflicts of life. How relationships grow or collapse... the lengths we'll go and limits we reach... the way we perceive ourselves and others... all come down to love. Not our capacity to feel it, but rather our limited ability to fulfill it.
We don't simply believe that love exists; we innocently believe it can be trusted. Awakening to the loss of that trust for the first time is what generally defines a Coming of Age story, and at its core that’s what Mud is. It comes wrapped in a very tense crime thriller, slow-boiling in a Southern Gothic stew that warrants comparison to the works of Flannery O’Connor.
Writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) doesn't just effectively blend genres but also numerous subplots and character dynamics – and does so with emotional weight and power. This is sophisticated filmmaking of the highest order. So many elements should be competing against each other – for time, tone, focus, and emotional investment – and yet they don't because all coalesce around one concurrent theme: can love be trusted?
That question is explored not via the title character but through the journey of a 14-year-old boy named Ellis (Tye Sheridan, The Tree of Life). Ellis is an only child who lives in a makeshift houseboat on the riverbanks of rural Arkansas with his parents. Early one morning, he and his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) set out to a nearby island. They're on a mission, but we don’t know what for. The suspense established is atmospheric, palpable, and sets the tone for what's to come.
I won't divulge what the boys find (it's a little unusual, serves as an interesting visual, and has its own air of mystery), but just when they think it’s their own secret discovery, Ellis realizes that someone else knows about it too – first by clues at the site, and then footprints that show they're being followed.
There is a stranger on the island, and he goes by the name Mud (Matthew McConaughey, The Lincoln Lawyer). Dirty, tattooed and chain-smoking through a chipped tooth, Mud is a man living off the grid. His amiable charm quickly endears him to the boys. Mud seems like a good man, and even though he probably shouldn't be trusted, he and Ellis have a genuine connection. They are desperate to believe in the same thing.
That desperation has brought Mud to where he is now: stranded, destitute and on the run from forces both legal and criminal. And it's all for a woman (Reese Witherspoon, Water for Elephants), all for love. Ellis's angst is similar, and twofold: at home, his once-loving parents are fighting and growing estranged; at school, he falls for an older girl who returns his affections with mixed signals. The people Mud and Ellis look to for love say - and even mean - one thing, but do another. Ellis needs Mud to succeed because it’s his last hope of love being true and trustworthy.
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