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Film / Mudbound

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"What good is a deed? My grandfathers and great uncles, grandmothers and great aunts, father and mother, broke, tilled, thawed, planted, plucked, raised, burned, broke again. Worked this land all they life, this land that never would be theirs. They worked until they sweated. They sweated until they bled. They bled until they died. Died with the dirt of this same 200 acres under their fingernails. Died clawing at the hard, brown back that would never be theirs. All their deeds undone. Yet this man, this place, this law... say you need a deed. Not deeds."
Hap Jackson

Mudbound is an American period drama film directed by Dee Rees and written by Rees and Virgil Williams, based on the novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan and distributed by Netflix in 2017. It stars Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell, and Mary J. Blige.

The film depicts two families in rural Mississippi; the white McAllan family and their employees, the black Jackson family, who both try to make their living off the land. In particular it comes to focus on two World War II veterans – one from each family – who return to their families and end up forging a bond out of their shared PTSD.


The film contains the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parent: Pappy is...not an easy man to live with.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the novel, Ronsel leaves the South after his mutilation, but his ultimate fate is never known. In contrast, the movie makes a point of showing Ronsel completing his journey to Germany and joyfully reuniting with his lover and son, making it clear that he was not destroyed by what was done to him, and ending on a note of love, rather than hate.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The novel mainly focused on the experiences of the McAllans, while the movie makes sure to spend equal time with both the McAllans and the Jacksons.
  • Asshole Victim: Pappy and Carl.
  • Beard of Evil: Pappy sports one that adds to his devilish qualities.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: At first, Henry's worst quality seems to be merely that he's boring, but as the film progresses and more layers are peeled back, it becomes clear that he's very much his father's son. Although he never comes across as outright hateful, he's definitely a product of both the time and his father's teaching and is unable to change. He's cowardly, weak, foolish and callous.
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  • Big Bad: The racism inherent in the system, passed down from generation to generation like a particularly shitty heirloom, is the real villain; but Pappy and his KKK buddies serve as a particularly virulent representation of everything wrong with the world.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ronsel has been tortured and mutilated, but he does get to raise his son in Germany far from the troubles of America. Laura is still stuck in her marriage to Henry and Jamie is still a guilt-ridden alcoholic, but Pappy is dead and the Jackson family have finally achieved their dreams.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: An unsympathetic example; Henry seems to resent that he missed out on being a wealthy, plantation-owning slaver, and his purchasing of the farm/treatment of the Jackson family is his way of living out his fantasy of being one. Particularly noteworthy is that the combination of his safe is 8-30-62, or August 30, 1862, the date of the Battle of Richmond, which was a massive Confederate victory.
  • Deep South: The film is set in the Mississippi delta.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: There's the obvious racism angle that permeates the film, but it also demonstrates how little sympathy was given to war veterans suffering from PTSD. There's also plenty of period-accurate sexism, particularly in the way Henry treats Laura, making decisions that will massively impact her life such as selling their home and moving their family to a farm in another state without considering her wishes or even consulting her first.
    • A lesser example would be Ronsel and Jamie drinking while driving, which no one takes issue with until Jamie almost causes an accident.
  • Dirty Coward: Henry, who lacks a spine save for when it comes to badgering his black employees.
    • Pappy seems to think this of Jamie, deriding him for flying bombers instead of killing his enemies face to face. It seems he's proven right, when Jamie can't bring himself to shoot Pappy during Ronsel's "trial". Even after revenging himself on his father later, Jamie seems to agree with his assessment.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Jamie kills Pappy, getting even for his abuse and his vicious attack on Ronsel. Later, when Henry demands Hap's help in burying Pappy in his usual, entitled way, he tries to get Hap's sons to help. Hap tells him straight-up his sons aren't going to help.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Jamie starts drinking after the war to drown out his PTSD, and soon encourages Ronsel to drink as well.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Laura finds it hard to keep her eyes off Jamie. One can hardly blame her.
  • Entitled Bastard: Henry seems to believe that he does own the Jackson family; he isn't open or virulent in his racism, but he clearly believes that black people have their place and that place is to work for him for little pay and poor treatment. There are hints in his behavior that he resents having missed out on all the wonders of being a slave-owner.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: A large aspect of the film is the position of the Jackson family; in spite of working the land for generations, they still don't own it, and are forced to work for the less experienced and less deserving McAllan family. Although Hap insists that they aren't owned by the McAllans, the disconnect between the two families is frequently hammered home. It doesn't help that the McAllans are descended from slave owners.
  • Foreshadowing: In the opening sequence, while digging for a grave spot, Henry and Jamie discover a skull belonging to a slave who was shot in the head. It leads Henry to object to burying Pappy there because Pappy wouldn't have wanted it, in a manner suggesting Pappy was so racist he wouldn't even want to be buried with a black person. The rest of the film reveals this is not exaggerated.
  • The Great Depression: Technically, the movie is post-Depression, as it takes place during the 1940s; however, even with the Depression over, there were still plenty of poor farmers struggling to survive, especially in the South.
  • How We Got Here: The film begins with Pappy dead, with an estranged Henry and Jamie looking for a spot to dig his grave and doing so. Then we see the surviving McAllans carrying Pappy's coffin and Henry calling to the Jacksons as they leave. The rest of the film reveals what led to this.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The other Klansmen (other than Pappy) who mutilate Ronsel. Given the time period it's reasonable to assume they will be tormenting, torturing, and even murdering many other men for years to come.
    • Henry isn't a villain or openly hateful, but he's an incompetent farmer who messes up his family's life without any regard to their wishes. He also seems very happy with the racist culture he lives in and his white male privilege.
  • Match Cut: From Ronsel jumping out of his disabled tank in the Western Front to Hap falling off a ladder and breaking his leg.
  • Old Maid: Prior to meeting Henry, Laura feared she was in danger of becoming one, being unmarried at 31 and (gasp) a schoolteacher to boot. It's implied that part of the reason she agreed to marry Henry is because she figured he was the best she'd be able to do.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Par for the course back then, but Pappy is particularly virulent in his racism.
  • Sadistic Choice: Pappy and his lynch mob force Jamie to choose between having Ronsel die or letting the mob mutilate him. Then Jamie's forced to choose which part of Ronsel they should cut off. All through this, Jamie is restrained with a gun trained on him and no sign of help, unable to take a third option.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Jamie kills Pappy.
  • Speak Ill of the Dead: Hap gives a cutting one after helping to bury Pappy. The script puts it as "He’s not trying to comfort the bereaved. He’s sending Pappy to Hell."
  • The Speechless: Ronsel is rendered mute after the lynch mob cuts off his tongue, only speaking in narration from that point on. Fortunately, he doesn't let it stop him from returning to Germany to raise his son.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Jamie and Ronsel are the platonic version of this; they seem to be developing a genuine and supportive friendship, but the intense racism of the time forces them apart, and violently punishes them both (Ronsel especially) for daring to cross social lines.
  • Vorpal Pillow: Jamie smothers Pappy to death in retribution for the mutilation of Ronsel.
  • Where da White Women At?: Jamie and Ronsel discuss Ronsel's white European lovers. A white German woman ends up giving birth to Ronsel's son. And the local white folks are so violently disgusted by this sort of relationship that Pappy is able to whip up a lynch mob as soon as he learns of it.
    • There are shades of this trope (and of white fear of it) in Henry not even entertaining the possibility that Hap could ride in the car with Laura and the girls, rather than in the truck with him. Of course, Pappy thinks that even this is more than Hap deserves.