Making the Grades
Matthew McConaughey looks a little rougher for wear in the movie Mud. But don’t worry. If you’ve paid good money to see the chiseled-chested actor take off his shirt, he does—albeit it briefly. Rather than the usual romantic lead, McConaughey plays a murderer on the run. As Mud, he holes up on an island in the Arkansas bayou where rot and riffraff seem to spontaneously generate. His plan is to retrieve an old boat, which was lodged in the top of a tree during a massive flood, and use it to make his escape with his ladylove Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).
While he waits for her to arrive in the small town on the shoreline, he meets two young teens. Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) also knows about the boat in the tree. When the adolescent convinces his friend Ellis (Tye Sheridan) to come with him to the island to see the trashed treasure, they stumble upon Mud who has taken up residence in the stranded vessel.
This script by Jeff Nichols has a nod to Huckleberry Finn written all over it. Like the duke and the dauphin in Mark Twain’s famous novel, Mud is a swindler of consummate skill. Before long he has the two leery boys doing his bidding—stealing all kinds of supplies to repair the boat. In addition to that, he has the pair relay messages to Juniper who has shown up in town and is holed up in a second rate hotel. Along the way Ellis and Neckbone discover the State Patrol, a bounty hunter and the murdered victim’s family are all looking for Mud.
But Ellis’ life is more complex than just his involvement with Mud. All around him he sees distorted messages about love. At home his parents (Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson) argue when his mother threatens to move out. He’s obsessed with a high school girl (Bonnie Sturdivant) who hardly admits he exists. And he has a romantic view of Mud and Juniper’s relationship, which turns out to be much different than he imagines.
A certain amount of infatuation angst isn’t unusual among teens—especially in a coming-of-age tale. But it seems as if almost every character we meet suffers from some romantic delusion or disappointment. Meanwhile these teens spit out scatological expletives with reckless abandon. Frequent depictions of smoking, domestic violence and crude catcalls show up in this script as well.
Mud’s appearance on the island serves as a catalyst in the maturing process of these two young friends. And the life lessons they learn during the weeks the spend hauling boatloads of stolen items across the river to the island aren’t always easy ones for them to digest. In this PG-13 rated film, love hurts, life isn’t easy and sometimes those who deserve to pay for their crimes don’t.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Mud.
How is marriage portrayed in this story? How does the separation of Ellis’ parents’ marriage affect the teen? How is love portrayed in other relationships?
How do the boys justify stealing items for Mud?
What role does the river play in the lives of the people who live on it or alongside it?