Mudbound, exquisitely directed by Dee Rees, is an epic tale of two families — one black (the Jacksons), one white (the McAllans) — intertwined before, during and after World War II. Within this grand scope of two large families connected by financial and emotional trials and tribulations, Netflix’s Mudbound poses an intimate yet still relevant examination of racism, familial bonds, God, war and love within American society.
Featuring incredible, depthful performances from Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke, this ensemble brings the requisite emotion to this tale set in the harsh, rainy, muddy land in Mississippi during the Jim Crow South.
Thanks to the strong performances, sweeping timeline and a significant amount of voiceover, the film creates a novelistic feeling to its story. The audience is given insight to the motivations behind Ronsel’s (Mitchell) decision to join the military, why Jamie (Hedlund) became an alcoholic after World War II, why Florence (Blige) only prays for her son Ronsel instead of her other children. The devices at play with time and voiceover create a narrative structure akin to watching something in the vein of a great novel by Steinbeck or Faulkner, yet Mudbound always uses the voiceover for character interiority rather than forced exposition.
While straightforwardly told, classically so, director Rees and editor Mako Kamitsuna create dynamic parallels between the families, as Jamie experiences a brutal dogfight in a bomber plane while Mulligan’s Laura (married to Jamie’s brother) experiences a disheartening miscarriage after an indescribably stressful situation.
Yet these crosscuts are used in strong ties between the two families, as Jamie and Ronsel describe their horrific war experiences to each other, both shown with flashbacks over the sharing of a strong whiskey in present time.
All of this world and character building create an expansive look at many issues within American society. However, the film makes clear the ways in which racism creeps into the lives of good people. In particular, the muddy land that the Jacksons and McAllans are forced to share becomes often symbolic of the two families intermingled relationship to each other — at times fertile with hope and respect, and at others drowned of any light and filled with mud that is bound to slow any sort of progress.
When the film moves towards its heartbreaking and unexpected ending — Rees’ sense of how this history still plays out in today’s society — the film paints a damning portrait of what it means to be living in a divided America.
As with every classic story though, there’s a sense of optimism in the power of hope and unity. And if there is an element of Mudbound that seems to be its most vital and hopefully rewarding aspect to viewers, it’s that, with a shared understanding of the human experience and the ability to realize the stronger similarities between us all rather than the general differences in appearance predicated on something only skin deep, there may be hope in America’s future.
History, like the one seen in Mudbound, will tell what comes next.
Featured image via Netflix.