The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

When will the girls be allowed into the swamp?

with 19 comments

mud

I’ve now seen Mud twice and I must say that the character that Matthew McConaughey is playing still is a bit of a mystery to me as is the rest of the story.

I know as much as that he’s hiding on a boat that is stuck in a tree in the middle of a swamp. He loves a woman, but she doesn’t seem to love him back. She keeps getting involved with other guys, even if they treat her badly. The pursuit of this woman has put Mud, as he calls himself, into trouble. There are people who want to see him dead. The police are looking for him. But I haven’t yet figured out the details.

It’s as if I’m watching this thin, sunburned, dirty man from a far distance. I see him through my pair of binoculars but he doesn’t let me come near him I can’t smell him, I can’t hear his voice clearly and I have absolutely no idea of what he’s thinking. He’s untouchable, a legend rather than a real person.

I don’t get the whole picture. And as frustrating as it may sound, this is what makes me like Mud so much. The film is told from the perspective of two boys in their early teens. One day as they’re out on one of their many exploration trips they find Mud, and as they find him a bit intimidating, they’re also attracted to him, fascinated by his air of danger and adventure. So they start to assist him in different matters, even though they don’t know exactly what they’re getting involved in. I don’t think the movie would have been half as enjoyable if it had been told from the point of view of a grown-up. The story would have felt small, flat, uninteresting. It’s thanks to the gaze of the child that it gets the shimmer of a fairy tale.

My only complaint is that it feels a bit expected that the boys are exactly this: boys. They walk in the same shoes where other characters have walked before in books and films such as Huckleberry Finn and Stand by Me. Why is it that we so rarely get to see girls exploring swamps, connecting to mystery women who live there or finding bodies of dead people? The only swamp girl I can think of is Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but she was a very young child. When will we get a movie about 12-14 year old girls that take out on an expedition? It would be nice for a change. Women can be more than just objects for desire and imagination.

Mud is not terrible from an equality point of view. But it doesn’t really bring anything new. How hard could it be to make the protagonist who goes out on a swamp expedition into a girl?

I can’t wait for it to come. A movie with a female Huckleberry Finn would feel like a breath of fresh air. This one clearly isn’t. It’s still well worth watching though.

Mud (Jeff Nichols, US 2012) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

January 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

Posted in Mud

19 Responses

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  1. My genus-o-meter is usually pretty sensitive, but in the case of Mud it sat quiet as a mouse. I feel that it would have been a completely different movie with women as Mud and Ellis since what they share is the wish to put the love of women on a piedestal. The first movie that we both liked but which I actually graded even higher than you?

    Sofia

    January 13, 2014 at 10:27 am

    • It usually is more sensitive than mine. I don’t know. It’s not a sexist movie again. It’s just the same of what we always see in this matter. A different perspective would feel refreshing. But please note: I gave it a 4/5 and liked it a lot.

      Jessica

      January 14, 2014 at 9:51 pm

  2. I enjoyed this one quite a bit but it was definitely missing something that prevented me from rating it any higher than 4/5. I didn’t really have a problem with the story or the characters but I wasn’t too keen in the formulaic ending.

    Mark Walker

    January 13, 2014 at 11:05 am

  3. Nice review. I absolutely love this film (#2 favorite film of 2013). I have to be honest, the gender issue never entered my mind. I think these characters were absolutely perfect for the story Nichols is telling. It also amazed me with how authentic the atmosphere was. Being from Arkansas I had heard and knew of this river subculture. Nichols visualizes it brilliantly.

    And I too love that it’s seen from the boy’s point of view. And it all revolve around his perception of love. He genuinely wants to believe in love but every example of it he sees is falling apart. The love thread is such a prominent part of the film.

    keith7198

    January 13, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    • I liked it a lot too. I loved Take Shelter a little more. That one too is a little hard to nail down – is he seeing what he’s seeing or not – and the atmosphere was brilliant. It stayed with me longer than Mud did. Still liked it.

      Jessica

      January 14, 2014 at 9:47 pm

  4. Interesting write up Jessica. I was a big fan of this, one of my favourites of last year. I see where you’re coming from with the gender issue, there aren’t many, if any, films with girls in a similar role, although I think it works fine as it is for Mud. If the lead kid had been a girl, I doubt she’d have had the same relationship with Mud, and as such it would have been a very different film.

    Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop

    January 13, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    • Well, if we switched that, we’d switch the Mud character as well into a Mudee. I don’t blame this film by any means. I just long for the girl-explore-swamp-movie to come.

      Jessica

      January 14, 2014 at 9:45 pm

  5. Jessica, nice take on such an intriguing movie. I agree that it works because we’re seeing it from the boys’ perspective. Mud is such a mystery to us because he’s a mystery to the kids. I agree that we’re stuck in the same gender roles for the most part, and that’s a limitation across the board. You never know where things will go, though.

    Dan Heaton

    January 13, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    • I wouldn’t say that the film is sexist, but it IS i little bit stuck in, if not stereotypes, at least typical roles.
      I really did like it a lot nevertheless. But it’s not groundbreaking. I wish someone would break some ground in this territory.

      Jessica

      January 14, 2014 at 9:44 pm

  6. Very nice review and viewpoint! I’d love to see a movie about teenage girls going on an adventure and discovering something exciting or mysterious…and let it not be a Disney animated movie (as much as I love those!)

    Katy

    January 14, 2014 at 2:17 am

    • Yes please! We have Hungergames, but why not a younger girl, who is a little bit more ordinary, but goes for an adventure in the swamp? Would love that.

      Jessica

      January 14, 2014 at 9:41 pm

  7. Interesting thought, I would be interested in seeing something like that.

    Nostra

    January 14, 2014 at 1:18 pm

  8. […] Mud The gaze of a child gave it the shimmer of a fairy tale. Next time I’d love to see a female protagonist though. […]


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