Mud: What a crappy name for a person. Especially an outlaw on the run for the murder of a D-bag woman hater. But that is the name of the protagonist played by Matthew McConaughey. Being on the run for killing a man makes life tough. Case in point, tough enough where you start begging a couple of teenagers to help you out by convincing them to bring you food and steal parts for a boat, AKA, your get away ticket. Sure you are an asshole for allowing them to help you when bounty hunters are trailing both you and your girlfriend but hell, why let a few dozen badasses and a couple of (potentially) dead kids get in the way of scoring some sweet, sweet poontang?
The point I am trying to make is that Mud is a terrible role model. But to youths Ellis and Neckbone he is something more: a friend. Ellis believes that he simply needs a helping hand to assist in getting him back on his feet. Neckbone simply follows along. But the reason Ellis throws himself over the proverbial cliff to help this criminal is the intriguing part- because Mud, in killing a man for the woman he loves, proves (unintentionally) to Ellis that true love exists, that it is not a mystified falsehood; this reveal comes at a fortuitous time for him since his parents are getting a divorce, causing him to move away from the home he has known all his life.
Understood as an adolescent’s coming of age tale as seen in the vein of grappling with love and sexual attraction, the film takes on a new dimension of maturity; such an approach subverts the traditional, irrational, plot of a youngster doing absurd activities out of boredom and replaces it with a tale of (mild) existential crisis. Ellis’s perception in Mud of a born again romantic gives him hope for, if not his own parents’ marriage, then at least his own shaky relationships (which he in fact misinterprets as he does Mud to a degree) and future loves. This framework casts the entire plot as both intensely realistic, as it draws on the alienation of young people coming to terms with the world and their bodies, as well as lending the concept a gravity which would otherwise be absent had the director decided against Ellis’s own ambiguous love life.
So the film is about change. In the end Ellis’s parent divorce. Mud is supposedly killed and Ellis is forced to split his time between his parents while internalizing the basic concept of life after love. The morale is that some change happens no matter how hard you try otherwise and that actions taken can result in the speeding up of the contradictions which lead to said change. Life may be what you make of it but making the best of an unavoidable situation is something else entirely.