FREE NEWSLETTER: Econintersect sends a nightly newsletter highlighting news events of the day, and providing a summary of new articles posted on the website. Econintersect will not sell or pass your email address to others per our privacy policy. You can cancel this subscription at any time by selecting the unsubscribing link in the footer of each email.

posted on 03 October 2016

Free State Of Jones: A Historian Reviews Matthew McConaughey's Castaway Army In The US Civil War

from The Conversation

-- this post authored by Erik Mathisen, Queen Mary University of London

Historians don't like simple stories. Tales of the past that contain facile explanations or glib conclusions never seem to satisfy. We yearn for complexity. And for historians of the United States, there is no more complex a moment in the nation's past than the civil war era.

For four-and-a-half years, Americans attempted to remake their republic and destroy a system of slavery that one half of the country thought so important that they seceded and created their own nation just to protect it. When the war reached its uncertain conclusion, the republic embarked on a period of radical and violent reconstruction that overwhelmed many of the easy conclusions of the conflict that preceded it: an era of national integration, emancipation and the introduction of former slaves into the republic as citizens. Here is a history that is complexity personified.

Yet historians face a problem with the civil war and its aftermath. The popular understanding of the conflict has long been uncomfortably squished into a tidy box. The war - as depicted in popular histories, historical fiction and film - remains a story of national redemption.

For as long as Americans have been making movies, the civil war era has been fertile ground. Hundreds of films have been released, including some of the most innovative movies Hollywood has ever produced, and as long as filmmakers have stuck to the national script, their work has received rave reviews and rapturous applause. Even if more modern films like Glory (1989), Ride With the Devil (1999), Cold Mountain (2003) and Lincoln (2012) have edged toward messier stories, most have stopped short of the end of the war to preserve the status quo.

Free State of Jones

Free State of Jones is not one of those films. Written and directed by Gary Ross, the film revolves around the true story of Newton Knight (played by Matthew McConaughey): a blacksmith turned Confederate stretcher bearer who has already had enough of the war by 1862.

In the wake of the Battle of Corinth, Newton Knight lights out of the army and makes for home. As a deserter from the army, Knight has a bull's eye on his back, leaving him to seek refuge in the southern Mississippi swamp to avoid capture. There he is taken in by a small group of runaway slaves aided by Rachel, a house slave owned by a local planter, portrayed with steely resolve by Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

It is not long before Rachel, Knight and his black compatriots are joined by a growing number of deserters, who together form an uneasy biracial community of castaways, with Knight as their radical leader. They make trouble for the Confederate Home Guard, whose hoarding of supplies sets the community against them and Knight becomes the figurehead of a defiant campaign to push back at overweening state control.

What begins as a battle for survival ends with a guerrilla war and Knight emerges as a leader of substance; Che Guevara with a Mississippi drawl. Shorn of their loyalties to the confederacy, Knight and his followers declare themselves a nation unto themselves: a Free State of Jones, named after the county Knight and his compatriots hail from.

Newton (Matthew McConaughey) and Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Studiocanal


In the way the story is rendered and the care which has been taken to swallow whole the complexity of the war and its aftermath, Free State of Jones is both effecting and resonant. Unadorned camera movements, a colour palate drawn from the Mississippi swamp and some strong performances, particularly from the supporting cast, all lift the film from cliche.

Though Knight's story is unique in the pantheon of civil war narratives, it lays bare something vital about the conflict and about modern wars more generally: whether victor or vanquished, few people caught in the middle of a war can easily discern whether they are winners or losers. Privation and want redound.

But the film stumbles when the war ends and the armies dissolve. It attempts to bring clarity to this messy story of reconstruction but it ultimately comes to a dead end. Later scenes in the film skate over national politics in an effort to maintain focus. A persistent narrative thread that ties Knight and his interracial relationship to Rachel, to a descendant in the middle of the 20th century, looks like more of a distraction.

If the civil war is a redemption story, the reconstruction period remains something altogether darker. It lacks an easy narrative arc, and coming as the film does at a moment when America's racial divisions have been laid bare, it is not surprising that Free State of Jones has received short shrift from many critics. The reconstruction period is America's racial past in microcosm and coming to grips with that history is as important as reckoning with the concerns of those who see black lives and black communities being ignored.

Free State of Jones marks an admirable attempt to set reconstruction loose from the bonds of national myth and filmmaking. But it lacks the strength to break free and keeps the story of the civil war and its aftermath frozen in amber.

The ConversationErik Mathisen, Teaching Fellow, Queen Mary University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

>>>>> Scroll down to view and make comments <<<<<<

Click here for Historical News Post Listing

Make a Comment

Econintersect wants your comments, data and opinion on the articles posted.  As the internet is a "war zone" of trolls, hackers and spammers - Econintersect must balance its defences against ease of commenting.  We have joined with Livefyre to manage our comment streams.

To comment, using Livefyre just click the "Sign In" button at the top-left corner of the comment box below. You can create a commenting account using your favorite social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Open ID - or open a Livefyre account using your email address.

You can also comment using Facebook directly using he comment block below.

Econintersect Contributors


Print this page or create a PDF file of this page
Print Friendly and PDF

The growing use of ad blocking software is creating a shortfall in covering our fixed expenses. Please consider a donation to Econintersect to allow continuing output of quality and balanced financial and economic news and analysis.

Take a look at what is going on inside of
Main Home
Analysis Blog
Comments on Feyerabend’s ‘Against Method’, Part III
Taking a Wrench to Healthcare
News Blog
Documentary Of The Week: Job Buffers Are More Efficient Than Unemployment Buffers
Typing Is The New Talking
Outsourcing Viewed As The Top Threat To U.S. Jobs
SOS, Extra Savings Needed For An Adequate Pension
Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize - And What Really Defines Literature
What We Read Today 25 October 2016
Baby Remarkably Survives Being Born With Heart Beating Outside Her Chest
October 2016 Conference Board Consumer Confidence Declines
Richmond Fed Manufacturing Survey Remains In Contraction In October 2016.
October 2016 Chemical Activity Barometer Continues to Signal Improving Economic Growth
Case-Shiller Home Price Index August 2016 Year-over-Year Rate of Growth Marginally Improves
Russia Falls Into Old Habits
Infographic Of The Day: Commodity Update, Is The Summer Slump Over
Investing Blog Technical Report 25 October 2016
How Apple's Product Launches Measure Up
Opinion Blog
What Triggers Collapse?
The Beer Goggles Stock Market
Precious Metals Blog
Inflation Surging As Platinum Signals Stock Market Decline
Live Markets
25Oct2016 Market Close: US Stock Market Indexes Closed Down Fractionally, Investors Remain Concerned With Friday's Fed Rate Change, Crude And US Dollar Down, Gold Up
Amazon Books & More

.... and keep up with economic news using our dynamic economic newspapers with the largest international coverage on the internet
Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

Crowdfunding ....



Analysis Blog
News Blog
Investing Blog
Opinion Blog
Precious Metals Blog
Markets Blog
Video of the Day


Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

RSS Feeds / Social Media

Combined Econintersect Feed

Free Newsletter

Marketplace - Books & More

Economic Forecast

Content Contribution



  Top Economics Site Contributor TalkMarkets Contributor Finance Blogs Free PageRank Checker Active Search Results Google+

This Web Page by Steven Hansen ---- Copyright 2010 - 2016 Econintersect LLC - all rights reserved