Fortune pissed upon our traditional Mother’s Day plans, which for the past six years or so have included a trip out to Belknap Hot Springs on the McKenzie River. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were required to adapt and overcome, which we did with a nice stroll along a river and some mighty tasty experiments in international cuisine (I went Middle Eastern).
Anyway, the whole point was for the three of us — Marilyn, Ceili and myself — to be together to celebrate the fine job Marilyn has done these past 19 years in birthing (that was a chore) and raising a lass that has turned into a fine young woman.
Ceili has found herself a tribe over in Eugene at the University of Oregon. Chief among them is Odin — a swordsman and an archer and an appreciator of Story. He recommended a movie that we snapped up at Blockbuster. Haven’t been in one of those in years; it felt a bit like archaeology. We came home with Mud (2013) and damned if it ain’t one fine piece of Frontier Partisans cinema.
The trailer (below) leans hard on the thriller aspects of the film — but it’s really a coming-of-age-tale and a meditation on Love. Romantic love; the love of fathers for sons; love for a passing way of life.
Two young river rats from Arkansas named Ellis and Neckbone (Ty Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) discover Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living on an island, clearly hiding out. Mud’s footprints feature crosses on the heels of his boots — a nod to the great river tale of American literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Turns out Mud is a killer — but it was all for love. Love of Juniper, a “dream you don’t ever want to wake up from.”
Except that Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) is an exponent of what we might call “toxic femininity”: A faithless little narcissist who looks mighty fine in cutoff shorts and knows it. She’s manifestly not worth the devotion of a man who will kill for her. Not that that has ever mattered in all of human history. Looking at you Helen…
Writer-director Jeff Nichols was obviously inspired by Mark Twain, particularly Tom Sawyer – but there’s a subtle hint of another literary presence: the soundtrack features snippets of Ben Nichols’ magnificent Blood Meridian-inspired album The Last Pale Light in the West. Yep — they’re brothers. With damn good taste in books and music.
Nichols is an Arkansas native, so he portrays his people as people, not exotic Hollywood caricatures. And as it explores the nature of love, the film also explores what it means to be a man — in an authentic and heartfelt way, eschewing hip irony. That’s a breath of fresh air right there.
There’s a thread of folk magic running through the tale — not least the curious fact that Mud is a physical specimen, despite living on a diet consisting mostly of cans of Beanee Weenees Originals and King’s Light cigarettes. Mud’s shirt has a wolf’s eye emblem stitched into the inner left sleeve. His mentor Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard) — who is a dab hand with a rifle — believes the shirt protects Mud. And, perhaps it does…
I won’t give any more away. Dig it up and watch it. You’ll be glad you did.