There's a movie that Mud appears to be, but isn't, that one would probably wish it had in fact been. That is, one that looks upon the heroes of our youth and sees in them projections of the strength we at the time needed them to have, for understanding them as versions of ourselves but in the adult world. Ellis is a fourteen-year-old boy with an abnormal amount of bravery, self-control and heart, but a lot of what is distinctive about him looks like it might be at risk as the life that nourished it--his life with his two parents, living up river amongst loner individualists--is collapsing, and he'll be absconded by his mother into a townie life. The townie kids hang out in packs, are ruled by peer expectations, and don't seem worth a whole bunch. They make great components of your own feats, if all you do is periodically range amongst them and thwart or humiliate them, but if they were your everyday milieu your automatic need for company and experimentation amongst people your own age, might mean your own inviting upon yourself a poison which would cripple what was notable about you. If you sensed that something of the kind was due to hit you, you might in Ellis's position start imagining suddenly being visited upon by mythic characters of great strength, that seemed to have bridged the divide between childhood and adulthood but wholly retained their fierce nature, heart and will. And when they talk about life, as Mud does, as if it is fundamentally ruled by mythos, you'd have the reassuring sense that your own appreciation of the world is brewed from the same mix the whole universe is universally of. You might lose confidence during the day, and feel powerless and without sympatico friends, but in the evening glancing at the constellations of the Archer or the Centaur, you'll feel that wink of appreciation that will gather some of your strength back to you.
Arguably, the mythic characters I'm referring to in this film--Mud himself, his "dad"--the retired military sniper, and Juniper--are shown to in fact be, if not nothing, certainly lesser of the sort. But not too much, in my judgment, for they still seem of greater motivation and purpose than anyone in the film--exempting Ellis's mother, whose drive to finally live her own life, and even her wishing for her family to gather for dinner, chimes in the movie as sort of a death-knell an incantation of powerful eternal adolescent spirit has to be very quickly created against. And the danger in their being represented this way is that it conveys that what you need to do in life is set your sense of yourself early, abscond from the social world your peers will get into during adolescence and early-adulthood, and arc back into some kind of interaction with the world in adulthood--as if you alone had diverted from "the college" path in the game "Life," to rejoin them later in contest of family and other stakes, should you desire. I'm sure in some cases this might keep you "truer," more truly functional and happy than everyone else--ala Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. But it probably means that the universe of conversation and social refinements and personal awareness and understanding that one can be become acquainted with amongst life with groups of people, that can make one actually surpass becoming an adolescent's hero and become a fully realized social adult, will be denied you. For this kind of growth you've got to be able to relax and hang--be the kid who sees some good from milling about with a peer group; be the kid who would near more want to relax and jam with Neckbone's uncle Galen (to be fair to the film, Galen is not portrayed here entirely without his attractions), than putting the universe right by conjoining Mud to his eternal equal.