I’ve recently been thinking about the influence of Southern folk traditions on my aesthetic appreciation of the world. I had not though of them for quite some time, but there they were comfortable, threadbare and familiar as a cabin heated by pot-belly stove in the depth of winter. I recalled those mountain tales and their fierce Biblical Naturalism and their warnings of the broken bond of blood to blood and man to woman.
Watching “Winter’s Bone” brought all those tales and sensibilities back in a rush. The film is the story of Ree Dolly, a girl forced to be the man, woman, and only adult in the house to her two tiny siblings far too early. Told on one bleak winter morning that her tiny homestead was put up as bond collateral for her her meth-cooking father’s freedom, she knows she has to find him and make good on that bond.
Her story works like “The Odyssey” with Ree traveling between her home and the backwoods archipelago of barb-wire fenced properties whose borders you disturb on pain of summary shotgun judgment. She visits her meth-addled uncle, her married and pregnant early best friend, her family’s timber land, the home of the last woman her father “took up” with, any many other mysterious and dangerous places in an effort to find the man who, while absent, has defined the predicaments that form her life.
The film is set in the bleak hills of the Ozarks where silence, blood feud, and poverty blanket the hills like the hundred-year trees that are nearly never escape director Debra Granik’s lens.
Ree’s story and the reticence of her kin and county is deafening in its silence and Jennifer Lawrence’s work as Ree is engaging, shocking, and heart-rending.
If stories such as those dark folk tales move your interest, this is a movie for you.