Netflix’s New Drama Sets a Greek Tragedy in the Deep South
DIRECTOR: DEE REES/2017
“When I think of the farm, I think of mud.”
And when I think of Netflix’s new drama Mudbound, I think of Greek tragedies. Everything on the farm is covered in mud; every moment is tinged in tragedy. The Jackson and McAllan families entwine on the Mississippi farm, one owning the land and the other sharecropping. Together they suffer through the rain, a world war, their blood, and their burials. And when one family sinks in their sorrows, the other drowns with them.
Mudbound tells its story with a true ensemble cast. Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, and Carey Mulligan create characters with dimension even in the small field of this world. Each narrate their perspective as the story grows and inform events buried in more layers than we can see. They all ache, yearn, and fight in their own ways, and no two relationships are alike.
Hap Jackson (Morgan, whom you may recognize from another Netflix ensemble in Stranger Things) and Henry McAllan (Clarke, one of those “I know I’ve seen him in something” actors) walk a fine line between neighbor and boss/employee, often to the detriment of the others. Laura McAllan (Mulligan) and Florence Jackson (Blige) connect as only mothers can. Ronsel Jackson (Mitchell) and Jamie McAllan (Hedlund) connect because no one else understands their post-war PTSD. And Pappy McAllan (Banks)? Well, he throws every wrench he can into their interdependency with his unconscionable racism and selfishness.
The cinematography tells the story in its own way as well. An earthy tint covers wood walls, the khaki soldiers’ uniforms, and the tan bed sheets. These characters can never escape the earth that ties them together and keeps them alive—every frame coats their view with shades of dirt.
But for all the flourishing acting and photography, I don’t think I could bear to endure Mudbound again. Was it worth watching? Most definitely. The story and themes are well-cultivated and uncomfortably resonant today. But moments of joy flit away quickly in the Jackson and McAllan homes, and then when you think their pain can’t worsen? Well, the Klan shows up. The film commits to showing the humanity of all of our players, letting us empathize with these families’ hardships, but it leaves us sickened with the regrets of our past. (To be fair, this is a well-earned feature, not a bug.) Mudbound is ready to watch again whenever I want on Netflix, but I don’t think I have the heart to trudge through this Greek tragedy set in the Deep South again.