Guest / Limited Access /
Mud and the Case of the Southern Film
Photo by Jim Bridges – © 2013 - Roadside Attractions
Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland in Mud

No doubt it's because I'm from the South that I'm particularly sensitive to that strain of Hollywood moviemaking that is the Southern movie. If a film is set in an RV park where four-wheel drive vehicles up on blocks stand along busted swing sets and go-carts, if it employs characters who skillfully spit Skoal at distances of no fewer than three feet, if there is an abundance of kudzu, then you can bet it's a film with which I'll have little tolerance.

Films about and set in the South have been around since the early history of cinema—see D.W. Griffith's troubling The Birth of a Nation (1915) as one popular example. But the commonly held notion of what the South should look and sound like on film seemed to solidify itself in our nation's movie-going consciousness with Deliverance (1972). It's a very fine film in its own right, but one which immortalized the South as a contested space, banjo-picking inbreds versus Pabst Blue Ribbon swilling macho men (see wetsuit-vest-wearing Burt Reynolds poised with bow and arrow for a singular example).

For his latest film, Mud, director Jeff Nichols takes us south to Arkansas, where the humid Southern environs are littered with customary signifiers like Piggly Wigglys and girls with two first names. Yet Nichols's achievement with his latest film—his third following the excellent Take Shelter (2011) and Shotgun Stories (2007), both worth space atop your Netflix queue—is that he transcends the clichés. He manages to transform this familiar milieu into something that splits the difference between genuinely menacing and heartbreakingly sweet.

The menace is first embodied in the film's titular character (Matthew McConaughey ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueReading the Reformation in 2017
Reading the Reformation in 2017
Historians are still finding new things to say about Martin Luther and his movement.
RecommendedScorsese’s ‘Silence’ Asks What It Really Costs to Follow Jesus
Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ Asks What It Really Costs to Follow Jesus
Martin Scorsese adapts Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed novel about faith, mission, and suffering.
TrendingThe Story Behind Trump’s Controversial Prayer Partner
The Story Behind Trump’s Controversial Prayer Partner
What Paula White’s Washington moment implies for the prosperity gospel’s future.
Editor's PickThe Church’s Integrity in the Trump Years
The Church’s Integrity in the Trump Years
It begins by recognizing the name above every name.
Christianity Today
Mud and the Case of the Southern Film
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

April 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.