WINTER’S BONE (Debra Granik)
WINTER’S BONE is a tense, carefully-directed indie suspense drama that is strikingly unique. Watching it, I could not compare the movie in its entirety and the feeling after to just any other flick in recent memory. It has created a standard all its own. Filmmaker Debra Granik did a great job telling a poignant story in pure realism.
When 17-year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) became the de facto head of the family following her father’s disappearance, we see tradition clash with humanity, and innocence is forever lost as she is forced to do the unthinkable in order to save what’s left of her family. The catch is, what could be a simple thing to her, or to us for that matter is actually a great deal to the other people in her community. This is a land where curiosity can spell disaster.
There is an admirable level of strength in Ree, as personified with much force by Jennifer Lawrence. The story itself is tightly-written, and through the central conflict that gives Ree the burning reason to risk everything, Lawrence is able to navigate from determined, to frail, and into morally confused.
In fact, that climax scene where Ree is inches away from the truth is plain gut-wrenching. I felt like I’ve been suckered punch in the stomach, gutted, and hanged upside down. The emotional intensity of WINTER’S BONE is mildly strong, but it guts you at unexpected moments. The pace itself is relaxed, the atmosphere serene yet dreadful. There is an unknown horror lurking that maybe comes with the surroundings, and it helps to establish the story’s moral questions.
The story is set in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri, and throughout the film you will see various animals— squirrels, horses, sheep. Maybe incidental or to metaphorically portray the animal nature of man, specifically Ree’s neighbours, the visuals nevertheless make an arresting experience.
Then there’s also the subliminal message of role reversal— the hunter becomes the hunted. In the early part of the film, Ree teaches her siblings how to hunt, and they go on one particular hunt for a squirrel to be had for dinner. If at all, I’d say that scene where Ree skins the squirrel could be a visual representation of her moral position; it mirrors just how determined she really is on survival, for her and her siblings.
The rawness of the message is just too strong to ignore.
Later on, Ree becomes the hunted, persecuted by members of her community.
John Hawkes, who plays Teardrop, her uncle also render a smooth and character-driven performance. Hawkes turns from brute and unfeeling, to a soft and committed man bid by blood.
WINTER’S BONE also shifts the social order from patriarchal to matriarchal. Whereas it may seem that the men control the community and the actions of its members, just look and see which among the characters will really spook you; not to mention that the protagonist is a young woman acting as father, mother, and sister all at once. There goes your tradition.
In the end, WINTER’S BONE stays grounded to reality and reminds us how unforgiving the landscape is, and how tradition, no matter how oblique cannot simply be overcome by a minor and her vengeful uncle. At least, the central conflict is solved. What Teardrop will do, and who it is that killed Ree’s father is not of our concern anymore, as what the film suggests.