I’ve told you often to listen to Pete. But you also gotta listen to Carl. I hustled down to the center of commerce that is Kennesaw, GA to see the movie MUD on his recommendation. It’s as good as he says. It’s as good as anyone could say.
It is some combination of HUCKLEBERRY FINN and TRUE GRIT. But a lot more TRUE GRIT. There’s Arkansas, bounty hunters, snakes real, human, and symbolic, being rescued from a snake pit by a very errant knight, a display of the gratuitous slaughter that comes when you take the law in your own hands, a deep commentary on place, displacement, the state of nature, and the techno-forces of the modern world and modern government, solidly American thoughts on law, property, justice, and keeping your word, and so forth and so on. There’s also a fearless 14-year-old hero (the one rescued, of course).
Here’s a big difference: The child-hero of MUD is a MAN IN FULL. He’s the least broken—despite being disappointed time and again by those who have given up on love—character in the film. He’s honorable and violent, but both on behalf of personal love and family. He’s a lover and protector, and that’s why he’s a (fist) fighter (and usually a fight loser). He (Ellis) is in so many ways—but of course not in all ways—the opposite of Mattie. He’s a very erotic and romantic character; he has all the virtuous qualities a good man should.
This is, maybe most of all, a SOUTHERN film—the honorable, violent, classy (sir and mam), men-of-few-well-chosen-poetic-words, chivalrous, gun-toting, fishing, motorized-vehicle-loving, woman-idealizing-and-protecting, family-and-place-oriented, unprosperous, rural (but not agrarian) South. The film is Christ and especially devil haunted, but the most admirable characters aren’t Christian at all. (Well, the character Mud is kind of Christian on personal evil, while being superstitious. He knows he rarely “traffics in the truth” and is in general not a good or authentically admirable man.) The admirable men are in the broad sense Stoic. In another subtle connection to TRUE GRIT, the one example of communal praying we see is to get God behind murderous vengeance. Still, as Carl points out, the moral drama of GENESIS is an indispensable part of MUD’s fidelity to the realities of good and evil.
Carl is also right that MUD is in so many ways about MANLINESS. But on Fathers Day let me conclude for now by saying that MUD is about broken families and men trying to be the best fathers they can be under very tough, “untraditional” circumstances. The film features three caring, manly, screwed-up dads; only one is a “biological” dad, and he’s on the road to divorce. Women don’t come off well in MUD; they’re mostly about setting up men for lives—driven by love—that are much harder than they seemingly need be. But thanks to Ellis, the film is not at all cynical about love, while remaining truthful about today’s rural South as a world of broken families and kids left more than they should be to their own devices.
The film’s other hero is a sharpshooter who saves an outlaw he raised and finally claims as his son with his deadly accuracy. TRUE GRIT also features, of course, a sharpshooter-savior—LaBeouf.
Mud, we can say, had his heroic moment, like Rooster. Well, not that much like Rooster, but more soon on that.
MUD is about dads and sons (especially, of course, one heroic son) not giving up on love.
Here’s a question for discussion: How do you incorporate what’s good about the South in Jaffa’s view of America?