Each one of us hails from a particular state which has its own history, culture, subcultures and traditions. We take pride in our descent and choose to believe that we are comfortably aware of our place of origin, its language and its people. And then one day, there comes a moment when you are caught unawares. A moment in which you realise that those assumptions were all but shallow. And in that moment you discover that no one graduates in this education because it goes on forever. Jeff Nichols — director of Mud — encountered one such moment in a public library of Little Rock city, Arkansas, his home state. He found a photo essay which showed a totally different side of Arkansas — one he wasn’t aware of. The idea of Mud germinated from there.
14 year old boys – Ellis and Neckbone – are busy discovering the streak of adventure that adolescence brings with itself. Often, they sneak out unannounced and unravel their city and its landscape on their own terms. One such excursion involves locating a large boat stuck in a tree on an island. They admire their discovery with a twinkle in the eye only to find later that it has been inhabited. Unsure of what to expect, they retrace their steps unwitting of the fact that on the edge of the island, a man awaits their return. A man named Mud.
Mud is 6 foot tall, muscular, tattooed, superstitious man with long, disheveled hair, unruly beard, excessive tan, a crooked set of teeth and a gun — more than enough to inspire fear and anxiety on a lonely island. He swears by the items in his possession — his shirt and his gun. But Ellis and Neckbone were cast in a different mould. They don’t flinch at the sight of Mud’s browbeating personality. On the contrary, they venture into a mutual Q&A. The conversation – lined with an element of suspicion from both sides – ends in a deal – Food for Boat.
Both the kids are at a delicate stage in their lives which lays the foundation for the notions of human virtues of the most intrinsic kind – honesty, integrity, empathy, love and above all loyalty. They are honest, warm but not naïve. Of the two, Ellis is in a vulnerable phase because his parents’ marriage has disintegrated to a point of no return. He struggles to come to terms with reality as he is totally oblivious of the concept of giving up. Deeply disappointed and without a mentor to look up to, he subconsciously lets Mud fill that vacancy.
“Tom loved a woman more than most men can in two lifetimes.”
Gradually, even the last traces of suspicion are washed off between them and they forge an inimitable bond of a mentor and mentee. Mud and Ellis let each other in on their lives at a humane level. Upon learning that Mud is waiting on that lonely island to reunite with Juniper (his girlfriend), Ellis dives head on to orchestrate this union – Rebel with a Cause. Neckbone, on the other hand, has a more logical approach and a sense of detachment towards matters. He is one of those friends who disapprove of your rushed, emotional decisions, warn you of its consequences but never leave your side; come what may.
“I tell you she’s like a dream you don’t want to wake up from.”
Ellis and Neckbone – keeping their lives at stake – do everything to realise Mud’s dream which becomes their purpose before too long. Just before the meticulous planning is about to reach its summit, life lands crushing blows on Ellis and sends him reeling. He suffers his first heartbreak and even before he could recover, finds out that Mud has given up. Disappointed by everybody who mattered, Ellis learns the bitter truths about life, goes into a frenzy and breaks. Saddened at the repercussions of his impulsive mistake, Mud course corrects and sets on the path to do things right by Ellis.
“You gave up on her and she gave up on you just like everybody else.”
Mud is an endearing intersection of two genres — coming of age drama and crime-thriller. It’s perfectly etched out characters smoothly establish a deep, personal connect with you within no time. Mud lets us in on the fact that no matter which place you belong to, the desire to love and get loved back is all-pervading. It portrays the innocence of old values and its struggle against the new and convenient. The film keeps its arc real throughout and never caves in to appease its audience. Tye Sheridan’s Ellis is someone with whom everybody can identify. He represents that phase of our life when thinking from shoulders up was something we seldom did and “thinks-from-his-heart” was not such a frowned upon phrase.
Matthew McConaughey broke new ground with his charming and ethereal performance as Mud and swept off critics at various festivals. Christopher Nolan happened to watch the first cut of Mud and said: “I admired him as a movie star and I knew he was a good actor, but I didn’t know how much potential he had until I saw that early cut. It was a transformative performance.” Mud premiered at Cannes in May, 2012 and by the time it hit the theatres (gap of a year), The McConaissance had already started. In the mass frenzy of ‘Interstellar’, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, ‘True Detective’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, McConaughey’s Mud — one of his most evocative performances — got edged out of people’s consciousness.
Despite that, Mud enjoys a cult of its own, a cult which grew and continues to grow sans McConaissance.