A picture entitled Granite Falls by Rob Amberg. This photo comes from his gallery entitled “Scapes” and can be found here.
Mark Twain is not dead. At least, Twain’s influence on southern art is not dead. His spirit lives on in the film Mud(2013) by Arkansas native Jeff Nichols.
Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey, is a shining example of the southern style Nichols has brought to Cinema. Nichols directed and wrote this piece as his third feature length film, and his breakout film. This movie put Nichols on the forefront of film, by providing a unique voice to a primarily West Coast Hollywood palette.
Many viewers will find Mud to be a slow developing movie. Typically, a turtle pace movie never holds the audience’s attention for long. However, this movie is not your average slow. Mud is southern slow. Meaning the tempo of this film is intentional. Nichols never rushes a scene along. The viewer gets time to chew every scene, study every character, and appreciate every shot. In fact, the film includes plenty of scenes that include little to no dialogue, and it pays off tremendously.
Cinematographer Adam Stone captures the mood of each scene with the visuals alone. Whether the lighting sets the mood or the positioning of the camera, Stone never lets the set-up of the scene seem out of place. Everything about this movie works. However, Nichols never allows the film take a risk. No camera move will wow the viewer, and no shot will make the audience wonder how in the world they pulled that off. Not having a risky shot is not a huge problem to have.
What Nichol’s film lack in risk, it makes up for in southern charm. Mud is filled with breathtaking southern landscapes. The rivers and trees will haunt the heart of the viewer. Then the audience will be immersed in a small arkansas town. Nichols takes the south and highlights all the beauty in his shots, then illustrates the lackluster reality of the world outside the beauty.
The reality comes out in the characters and the story Nichols has created. Mud, Ellis, and Neckbone all have their own charactertistics that make them sympathetic to the viewer. Mud is a outlaw snake bitten by love, Neckbone is the rag tag side kick to Ellis who cusses a little too much for his age, and Ellis is the innocent protagonist just doing what he thinks is right. Some could argue that Ellis and Neckbone mimic Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. They have a case.
After all, Mud is a coming of age story. The film is told in classic Hollywood style with Ellis having a simple motivation: proving love is something worth holding on to. Yet, echoes of the classic adventures of Tom Sawyer resonate within the wrinkles of the film. The viewer just has to look a little closer for them.
In the end, Mud is a modern realization of classic southern literature. Jeff Nichols is on his way to becoming a staple southern director(his new film Loving will be released to theaters soon). The theme he holds in his movie is important in developing southern culture. As Neckbone’s uncle Galen says, “You got to know whats worth keeping and whats worth letting go”. When artist reach back into the southern artistic heritage, they have to know what is worth keeping and retelling, and what is worth being forgotten. Nichols has kept Mark Twain’s southern drama-adventure alive. Lets hope future southern artist find today’s stories worth keeping.