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Is Mud a True Story?

December 30, 2020
4 min read

‘Mud’ revolves around the life of two young boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who befriend a fascinating fugitive called Mud (Matthew McConaughey). The boys meet Mud, who is hiding on a small island in the Mississippi River. They strike up a deal and help him evade his attackers while trying to reunite him with his true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Little do they know that their association with Mud could be a dangerous yet exciting adventure that will be hard to forget. The coming-of-age drama is written and directed by Jeff Nichols. Are you wondering if the story is based on someone’s life? Let us clear that up for you!

Is Mud Based on a True Story?

No, ‘Mud’ is not based on a true story. Nichols first got the idea for the film years ago when he was still a student in college. He grew up in Little Rock (Arkansas), which is situated on the banks of the Arkansas River, and would often fantasize about visiting an island in the middle of the river. He started the story by pegging it around a man hiding out on an island in the Mississippi. He was further inspired by a book he had come across about fishermen who make a living on the Arkansas River. Nichols then spent eight years detailing the story into the “big, classic American movie.”

Nichols is particularly impressed by Mark Twain’s works for the way it captures the essence of growing up. The film specifically focuses on adolescence, which is a time when individuals are still finding their feet. He feels that adolescence brings in highly relatable elements such as first love, first heartbreak, the intensity of the emotions, and vulnerability, which Ellis and Neckbone embody beautifully. Those of you familiar with ‘Huckleberry Finn’ may have noticed that Tom Blankenship’s name in the film is the same as the real person who inspired the book’s titular character. Nichols is clearly a Mark Twain fan!

Another angle the movie explores is the presence of male mentors. The boys look up to Mud and are invested in his cause. Similarly, Mud turns to Tom (Sam Shepard), who is like a parental figure from his childhood. Adolescent boys often look up to male role models who are instrumental in shaping their lives- be it John Keating (Robin Williams) in ‘Dead Poets Society’ or Iron Man in Spider-Man’s life.

Family is a strong shaping factor in a growing person’s life, and here we see Ellis having to deal with a huge change as his parents separate. This is layered with the fact that he will also have to leave the home that he has always known and loved. Think about the first time you moved away from a place that you called home. You miss the garden, the mountains, the smell of grass, the chill of the winter air, and even the most insignificant experiences that stay with you and strengthen the longing to be there again. This brings to mind William Wordsworth’s ‘Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,’ where a certain place on the face of the earth can give you memories and reflections to last a lifetime.

In this film, the river is an important character that constantly moves, shapes, and adapts, much like a person going through adolescence. Nichols described Ellis’s character as an observant boy looking at the people and the world around him, trying to find a happy and healthy example of love. It is common for children who come from broken families to find an escape and fantasize about what can be or increasingly grow skeptical about love and relationships. This could explain why the boys seem so invested in Mud’s relationship with Juniper. They see it as “true love,” and they really want to be a part of something like that. They do their best to help out, till they start to see the harsh realities.

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