Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mud, Mark Twain, and Myth

I have to begin with this boat. The movie begins with these boys, Ellis and Neckbone, and this boat in the tree. A boat which is, we soon discover, stamped in mud with the sign of the cross.

The boys, of course, lose no time in boarding the boat and claiming it for their own, but they soon find evidence that someone has been there before them. That someone is Mud, wearing a shirt with the eye of a wolf sewn in it for protection, a tattoo of a snake down his right arm, and a cross made of nails in the heel of shoe. He's in danger, and on the run, but he's waiting. Waiting for a beautiful woman with bird tattoos on her hands, a woman who saved his life when he was bitten by a snake. Juniper.

I first became aware of the the movie Mud when I saw a poster for it at the theatre where I went to see To the Wonder. At the time, I don't think I more than noticed it, but when someone commented on a blog that it was the, "Best film consciously set in the South that I've seen in a long time," I filed it away for future reference. 

I don't have much time to watch movies nowadays, and when I do have the time, I usually prefer to read, so it's taken me over a year to get around to Mud. A couple of weeks ago while I was on vacation, I finally sat down and watched it, and I enjoyed it very much. It was a good story, the characters were well-drawn, and the actors did a great job. And that was about all I thought about it until later.

After a while, I started thinking about Mud and why he was named Mud. And I got thinking about how the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground. And here was this man named Mud living alone in the woods with a snake on his arm to remind him, "... to watch out for the snake," and waiting for this woman from whom he had been separated. "Hmmm," I thought, "that's kind of interesting." And the more I thought, the more Bible references and types there seemed to be from beginning to end.

There is this boat. There is a man who has no parents that anyone remembers, not even Mud. There is a sort of garden, the kind of garden that you might find east of Eden if it were in the rural American South and had been left untended for, say, fifteen and half minutes.There is an enigmatic, fatherly figure who raised Mud as much as he was ever raised, and who is removed from the community, but who is observing what goes on. There are snakes. There is a redemptive act. There is a sort of Baptism. There is a rescue by boat.

And there is a woman. When I thought about the woman, it seemed as she was not the best type of Eve--maybe Lilith--maybe a combination between the two. Tom, the fatherly figure, says of Juniper that, "She’d bed down with the meanest snake she could find, then when things went bad she’d go runnin’ to Mud."

After thinking about all this for a while, and deciding I would write this post, and what I would write in this post, I thought I'd go looking around the internet to see if there was any indication that anyone connected with Mud would mention the biblical aspects of the movie. I wasn't too surprised to see that there wasn't. 

What I found most often was that Mud was a coming of age film. An article in The Guardian  says, 
It's a film that wears its influences on its sleeve: this "big ol' story", as [director Jeff] Nichols calls it, is Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn rewritten for modern times. Nichols is happy to acknowledge it. "I first read Tom Sawyer when I was in 8th grade, 13 years old. I realised since that Mark Twain just bottled what it felt like to be a child. I wanted to check back in with that and see what a modern-day boy on the river is like."
In another interview, Nichols says, that he was making a getaway film but stumbled backwards into making a coming of age film. So, "this 'big ol' story,' but not The Story.

Several times I have come across movies, books, and even one ballet, in which biblical or specifically Christian references or analogies--sometimes very profound and beautiful--seemed very obvious to me, and yet it also seemed obvious that there was nothing in the creator's knowledge or experience to account for them. It makes me wonder. Is the Story of our Fall and Redemption written so deep in the nature of all things that it seeps through unsuspected? We see it pre-figured in ancient texts, so it must be. It reminds me of Tolkien's On Fairy Stories.

I did finally find a blog post in First Things which mentions the biblical analogy. The author, Carl Scott, is mostly writing about misogyny in the movie. I very much noticed this myself, although it's not something I consciously look for. And a few other good blog posts from Scott and Peter Lawler on the movie here, here, and here. There is some comparison of Mud and one of my favorite recent movies, True Grit going on in their blogs, too.



  1. " Is the Story of our Fall and Redemption written so deep in the nature of all things that it seeps through unsuspected?"

    That was my thought as I was reading your description of the movie.

  2. So, how far down is it on your long,long list?


  3. well I never thought of that...

    1. Did you have an enjoyable evening at the Evil Czech?


  4. Yes and I showed them your piece on my phone. they said you are the Gerard Manley Hopkins of today.

  5. They must have had a lot of beer! That is making me laugh. I didn't think it up, I just passed it on, but I hope they found it helpful.

    I do love Hopkins, though, and I do suffer from a bit of his tortured introspection.