Winter’s BoneBy Bobby Neal Winters
Reason is a servant of the passions, but at certain times there are those who can put the passions aside to take care of business. In the 2010 movie Winter’s Bone, Ree Dolly (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is one of those people who can set aside her passions and take care of business.
The business has been, of course, set for her by her passions. In this case, it is the love she has for her family. Ree’s father is a marijuana grower turned meth cook. He’s been arrested but has bailed himself out and then disappeared. The family--Ree, her younger brother and sister and mentally ill mother-- is running low on money. They are gnawing on their last bone in the absence of the father.
Bad matters turn to worse when the bail bondsman arrives to tell Ree that her father put their whole place up for security on his bond. At that point, Ree’s business is set out for her. In order to keep her family from being put out on the street and scattered, she must either bring her father to stand trial or prove that he is dead. This business puts her on a journey that--while not taking her out of the boundaries of her home county--takes her a great distance within herself.
Winter’s Bone is set in the Ozarks. Those of us around Pittsburg, Kansas don’t have far to go far beyond our own city limits to know that this movie presents the real deal. There are rusty cars up on blocks in the yard. The neighborly women are fat. I have a pet peeve of television shows portraying poor people as living in two-story, well-kept houses that are clean, have every appliance, and all of those appliances are new.
Winter’s Bone does not fall into that trap. It tells Ree’s story and at the same time provides a window on a culture. It is a culture that hunts and fishes; shoots and prays; plays the fiddle, guitar, and banjo. And sometimes it makes whiskey and cooks methamphetamine.
That last part hurts me. Rationally, I know that whiskey has killed more men over a longer time and over a greater geographical distribution than meth ever will. I know that more women were beaten senseless and worse by their drunken men than ever will be my meth-heads. But there is something worse in my mind about meth. Maybe it’s the snaggled teeth. Maybe it’s the sores on their arms. Maybe it’s the fact I have to jump through hoops to buy decongestant.
I am trying to be careful to avoid spoilers. Even though the movie is rich enough to provide enjoyment upon multiple viewing, it does have some surprises the first time through that I wouldn’t rob you of. This doesn’t prevent me from highlighting a few points that it does get right.
In one scene, Ree is teaching her younger siblings how to shoot. She takes her brother and sister out into the back yard with the twenty-two and lines up some bottles.
“Get down on your knees just like you are praying,” she says, and then goes on to instruct them in the niceties of aiming and squeezing the trigger.
In my mind, tt is no accident that Ree’s big dream for getting out of poverty is to join the army.
Legal scholars, perhaps on both sides, may disagree with me here. The second amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Am I over-reaching here to believe that the founders had in mind a culture wherein there would be children taught to hunt from the moment they could hold a gun and that such a culture would provide a reservoir of people capable of carrying out the business of war?
In any case, I’ve have private conversations with army recruiters and have been told the Ozarks are prime ground for recruiting soldiers. I’ve seen ‘em with my own eyes.
There is a scene in which Ree has been beaten for pursuing the search for her father too ardently. She’s gathered in by her uncle and taken to be cared for. They don’t take her to the emergency room of course. If the thought even crossed their minds, the doctors there would’ve asked too many questions. She’s taken home and cared for by the women-folk.
The neighbor-lady brings over some pain meds--there is no way that it’s not hydrocodone--and instructs her how to use it. This is the way it’s done. Whenever someone does go to a doctor, they don’t necessarily use all of the prescription themselves. They save it against the day they--or a neighbor--might need it.
I know that this is wrong. I know you should flush it down the toilet or, better yet, take it to the hospital and let them get rid of it. But I’ve seen my momma do it, just like the lady in the movie.
And by the way, the neighbor-lady has exactly the right shape for a neighbor lady. She has successfully avoided the trap of anorexia.
In a journey like the one Ree is on, it is important to watch for what changes or what character trait is highlighted. Here it is instructive to observe the bailbondsman. He is only in two scenes, but he provides a means for Ree to measure herself. He is a mirror that shows her a reflection of herself. At the end, what she sees is respect and this leads her to self-respect.
My final word is caution. You should see this if you can take it. There is violence, but not enough for me to discourage your seeing it. The most disturbing scene is near the end and you don’t really see anything yourself. It’s worse. By this time you are so bonded with Ree that you see it through her eyes. For this reason, I’ve seen it twice but I’ve never shown it to my wife.
Make up your own mind.
But they got it right.