In my review of 2009’s Oscar-nominated film Precious I stated that it was incredibly difficult to objectively review the film because the realism that is presented is so detached from my own circumstances. After seeing Debra Granik’s gritty Winter’s Bone I find myself faced with a similar conundrum, although not to such an extreme.
For people living in the rural areas of the Ozark mountains a fulfilled life is not one of luxury. The goal for an individual is simply to survive rather than thrive in the harsh natural and social environment. The world presented in Granik’s dark thriller seems desolate and cold, but through the female protagonist it manages to glimmer with hope. Brilliantly filmed against the poetic landscapes of the Ozark mountains, Winter’s Bone is a glimpse into rural morality and the emergence of an unlikely hero.
Relative newcomer Jennifer Lawrence is a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination for her performance as Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old with a lot of responsibility. She is the chief caregiver of her two younger siblings, she lives with her nearly catatonic mother, and she only occasionally shows up for school. Her meth-dealing father has been arrested, posted the family’s house as bail, and vanished. If he does not show up at court, the family will lose their house and be thrown into a world where they have more enemies than friends.
The narrative is essentially straight forward, which allows Granik to lace the film with tension. Granik brilliantly proves that action does not equal tension and most scenes start and end on high notes with an anticipated release that never comes. At its heart, Winter’s Bone is a film noir with a missing person chase, a look into an underground crime world, and a feeling of constant danger. Lawrence successfully creates a new feminist hero that also harkens back to the great noir detectives of the 1940s.
In a low populated area like the rural Ozarks, the morality that is presented does not fit the mold that urban and suburban dwellers have become accustomed to. When a significant portion of the workforce consists of unskilled laborers, the job market is incredibly volatile. In one scene Ree sees her only two possible futures in two separate school rooms: join the army and escape or become a mother and join her miserable relatives.
Nobody appears content with their existence in Winter’s Bone except for the children who only appear in the film in brief segments where they can be seen jumping on a trampoline or playing in hay. The fact that the children get such joy out of such meager circumstances shows that Ree’s fight is worth it.