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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Mud

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Jacob Lofland, Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan star in a scene from the movie "Mud."
Set in rural Arkansas, along the banks of the Mississippi, writer-director Jeff Nichols' leisurely coming of age story "Mud" (Lionsgate/Roadside) owes an obvious debt to Mark Twain's classic tale "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Realistically updating some of the most famous passages of Twain's iconic story, Nichols' script uses the template of what is arguably the Great American Novel to explore delicate moral shadings, the nature of friendship and the interplay of innocence and disillusionment in the mind of one of its main characters.

The still-shaping consciousness in question belongs to 14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan). Gentle and idealistic, Ellis is opposites-attract best friends with peppery Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). With no parents on the scene -- he's being raised by his caring but hardly authoritative Uncle Galen (Michael Shannon) -- Neckbone is far less cautious than Ellis, but also more cynical.

Together, the two boys like to escape their hardscrabble environment by taking motorboat outings on the river. During one such journey, they discover a man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living on an otherwise uninhabited island in the waterway.

It emerges that Mud is a fugitive. Reared nearby, he's returned to the area on the run from his mysterious, but clearly freighted past.

Drawn by the stranger's charismatic personality and eccentric ways, the initially frightened Ellis goodheartedly agrees to help him, bringing him food and keeping his presence a secret. Characteristically, Neckbone takes more convincing, but Mud eventually wins him over as well.

As they assist Mud in refitting a disabled boat so he can make a waterborne getaway to the Gulf of Mexico, Ellis and Neckbone are increasingly drawn into -- and endangered by -- the tangled relationships in their new friend's life. The most significant of these is his obsessive on-again, off-again romance with comely girl-next-door Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).

According to Mud's version of events, the pair first fell for each other while they were still children. And it was his love for Juniper -- and the need to protect her from harm -- that drove Mud to commit the crime that now has both the police and a team of bounty hunters on his trail. He hopes to arrange for Juniper to be with him when he makes his escape.

Disputing Mud's account of all this is one of his few adult allies, Ellis' reclusive neighbor Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard). Though he sympathizes with Mud, and has been something of a father figure to him in the past, Tom warns Ellis not to be swayed by Mud's charm or too persuaded by his glib discourse.

The complex bond between Mud and Juniper becomes a shifting prism through which Ellis views other relationships in his life.

At home, Ellis is coping with his quarreling parents' (Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon) impending divorce. He's also grappling with his puppy love for May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), a sometimes disdainful older girl who's unsure whether, as an exalted high school student, she should lower herself to date a mere ninth grader.

Viewers conversant with scripture will note that the dangerous serpents who call the Mississippi home become a recurring symbol of evil in Nichols' narrative. The ambiguous mix of light and dark elements in Mud's personality, for example -- an embodiment of the effects of original sin -- can be connected to his past interaction with these malign creatures.

Character-centered and moving, "Mud" provides thoughtful entertainment for mature moviegoers.

The film contains intense but largely bloodless violence, some adolescent sex talk, including references to pornography, a couple of uses of profanity and considerable crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Martyrdom of John the Baptist: The drunken oath of a king with a shallow sense of honor, a seductive dance and the hateful heart of a queen combined to bring about the martyrdom of John the Baptist. The greatest of prophets suffered the fate of so many Old Testament prophets before him: rejection and martyrdom. The “voice crying in the desert” did not hesitate to accuse the guilty, did not hesitate to speak the truth. But why? What possesses a man that he would give up his very life? 
<p>This great religious reformer was sent by God to prepare the people for the Messiah. His vocation was one of selfless giving. The only power that he claimed was the Spirit of Yahweh. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Scripture tells us that many people followed John looking to him for hope, perhaps in anticipation of some great messianic power. John never allowed himself the false honor of receiving these people for his own glory. He knew his calling was one of preparation. When the time came, he led his disciples to Jesus: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). It is John the Baptist who has pointed the way to Christ. John’s life and death were a giving over of self for God and other people. His simple style of life was one of complete detachment from earthly possessions. His heart was centered on God and the call that he heard from the Spirit of God speaking to his heart. Confident of God’s grace, he had the courage to speak words of condemnation or repentance, of salvation.</p> American Catholic Blog Just as my children become members of my family when I bring them into the world, so too our baptism incorporates us into the family of the Church. This supernatural membership prevents us from being orphans who have to fend for themselves in the spiritual wilderness.

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