movies

'I couldn't look away from Netflix's Mudbound, even though I desperately wanted to.'

For 152 minutes, I laid in bed. I scrolled through my phone, tossed around trying to get comfortable, and thought about what I’d be doing at work the next day.

And I watched a movie.

Then, at the 153rd minute, my jaw dropped. My mouth hung open in the kind of way that only happens when you see or hear something that truly shocks you. I put down my phone. I sat upright. I couldn’t look away, even though I wanted to.

I wanted to hit pause. My mind wanted me to. You don’t want to see this, it pleaded. But I kept watching, because those minutes, 1:53:00 – 1:57:00, might be for what Mudbound wins its Oscar.

Listen: The period drama Mudbound has been a surprise success for Netflix with a tonne of Oscar nominations. Here’s why it’s one to watch (post continues after audio…)

This month, Mudbound made history. The gritty American period drama helped Netflix become the first streaming service to land eight nominations in this year’s Academy Awards.

It almost didn’t make it – after the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year, many in Hollywood passed on the film. They said it was too long. The subject matter too dense.

Both are true. But something about the story of two men – one white, one black – returning home from World War II to work on a muddy farm in America’s south cut through. And it has everything to do with the long, dense moments that gave those four gripping minutes the space to explain why it was so important this film be seen.

Mudbound isn’t a story about one man. It’s about two. Two men from two families, living in two different types of world dependant on the colours of their skin.

mudbound
Jamie and Ronsel strike up an (in those times) unlikely friendship as they deal with racism, PTSD and adjusting to life after war. Image: Netflix.
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When Henry McAllen tells his wife, Laura (Cary Mulligan), they'll be moving to their very own patch of land in rural Mississippi with Henry's racist, abusive 'Pappy', it's the start of life she never wanted for herself. A life where a man like Henry's handsome younger brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), would take her to smokey jazz lounges and twirl her around the dance floor.

Life on the farm is harsh. And muddy. Not at all the kind of place Laura imagined herself raising two girls.

For the Jacksons, that farm is their home. It has been for generations. Hap's father, and his father, and his father before him tended to that land with their bare hands, but always for someone else. So Hap (Rob Morgan) and his wife, Florence (played by the Oscar nominated, Mary J. Blige) sow the cotton fields with their eldest son, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell). It is the South after all, where in 1941, black people couldn't own land, ride at the front of the bus or enter the grocery shop through the front door.

Then Ronsel and Jamie are sent off to serve their country in the war - Jamie, a fighter pilot Captain, and Ronsel a Sergeant. There is no 'black' or 'white', just men, husbands, fathers, and sons.

They return years later to find that while the rest of the world has changed, Mississippi hasn't. People like the McAllens still own land and decide the fates of others, and those like the Jacksons still have to use the 'coloured' bathroom.

From there, Ronsel and Jaime strike up an (in those times) unlikely friendship as they deal with racism, PTSD and adjusting to life after war.

Yes, it's a long movie. And it'll make you work. The way the story is told, through the eyes of Henry, Laura and Jaime, and Hap, Florence and Ronsel, feels disjointed at times. You might need to take a break or duck out to the loo, which you can do because unlike new releases, you have the option to hit pause.

Mudbound is accessible in a way we've not known Oscar movies to be before. It's almost the anti-Oscar film, there's no prestige or pretentious front, and you don't need to leave the house to experience it. It's sitting unassumingly in your Netflix library right next to The Crown and a Bring It On sequel.

But if your attention wanes, hang in there. Because all of that context, characterisation, and detail that could seem unnecessary is what helps you begin to comprehend how two families could live metres away from one another, yet experience humanity so differently.

And, in that 153rd minute, when Jamie is forced to make a painstaking decision, and to watch something inexplicably horrific, don't look away. Even if, like me, you want to. Because those four minutes of Mudbound, and their consequences will stay with you long after they're gone.

You can watch Mudbound on Netflix now. For more on Mudbound and everything I, Tonya, get the latest full episode of The Binge in your ears below...

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