Winter's Bone

Rhee Dolly, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is seventeen. She lives with her twelve year old brother and six year old sister in a log cabin in the Ozark Mountains, in Missouri. She also cares for her mother, who suffers from some undisclosed mental illness which has rendered her catatonic. Her father, Jessop Dolly, a renowned local meth cook, has skipped bail. As a result, the law has foreclosed on their property and her family’s already meagre resources are stretched to breaking point. Necessity means she has to either find her father and convince him to turn himself in, or turn up his corpse which will release her family from having to pay his debt. Her quest takes us on a journey through the demography of a little-seen part of the U.S.

The people are dirt poor. Many of the adults are gaunt and hollow in the face, as much from the ravages of hard lives as methamphetamine addiction.

I liked the way the film didn’t go to lengths to tell me how to feel about what I was watching. Their clothes are often threadbare and torn, and their homes are patched and rickety. But Rhee is a heroine, plain and simple. She asserts herself in the world on the basis of her courage and her integrity, and does what she needs to in order to protect her family.

My partner and I were discussing the film on the drive home. I said to her that our house, with its stalactites of peeling paint in the stairwell and brown, faded carpet worn to a nylon patina wasn’t much better. We have a blanket in the lounge room instead of a curtain, and the walls in the kitchen are green with mould along the ceiling cornice.

I have been somewhat depressed the last few years. The things I have set out to do – fighting and writing – have failed to define me. I am looking down the barrel of forty, and I don’t have much to show. No published works, no professional career. Certainly no new European car or flashy home in the inner suburbs.

An old ‘friend’ of mine came over for dinner with his wife some months ago, which was a pretty thin pretext for sticking his nose over the fence so he could compare our relative stations in life. He’s in I.T. and has made a shitload of money; he came over in the Porsche, having chosen to leave the Beamer at home. His attempt to cover his horror at my digs (rented, no less) was as thin as the carpet on the stairs. He stayed, ate our food, left, and I haven’t heard from him since.

I don’t think I’m misquoting Eisenstein when I say that he felt one of the most potent aspects of cinema was that it allowed the audience to look deep into the eyes of a stranger and read the humanity that is written there. That’s what ‘great’ actors can do, even in pornography; they have the ability (maybe its courage) to allow you to look right into them. The actress Elizabeth Duse, when asked why she continually played all her characters the same way, responded, ‘I have nothing to offer as an artist except for the revelation of my own soul’.

When Rhee Dolly looked out of the screen and into me, I was forced to look past her clothes, her hair and right into the nexus of her hard-bitten courage. I saw a kind of defiance; she defied me to watch her struggling against the vortex of her ordeal and think that I was better than her.

That was her challenge.

One Response to “Winter's Bone”

  1. Great Movie!! I was raised in the Missouri Ozarks area where the film was set and filmed. This is the part of the US that loves Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh (who is from Missouri) and voted for GW Bush twice. I have to say that the film was amazingly “true to life” in every detail. I would also like to say that you don’t have to be desperately hungry to hunt and eat squirrels either. It is considered very good food in the hills. I have eaten it many times and it is delicious when cooked correctly.

    I have been dismayed reading many of these reviews calling it a “fake” and/or “phony” and contrived film. I do understand that the character of Ree Dolly certainly has many wonderful and admirable qualities that seem to have developed in a vacuum. Ree Dolly needs to be that sort of character for the rest of the film to work and not simply be a documentary of the endless poverty endured in the Ozarks for generation after generation. I grew up EXACTLY in that part of Missouri and Ree’s character aside, it is EXACTLY correct in the look, the language and the behaviors there.

    I would also like to address the meth epidemic that has raced across huge sections of the rural Midwest America. I was raised in the Ozarks from 1963 until 2009 and I watched the moonshiners lose out as Sunday Blue Laws and Dry County Laws were voted down or abandoned. Then marijuana became THE big cash crop that survived and thrived for many years until “Daddy” Bush’s anti-marihuana laws poured in tons of money to local law enforcement and new laws confiscating lands forced the richer growers indoors. It was finally in the mid 1990s when you began to see meth force out ALL the remaining marihuana farmers and moonshiners. Counties began to get in meth dealing Sheriffs and the old games were OVER. In my Ozark County (Morgan) during the late 1990s a deputy sheriff’s home mysteriously exploded and then was investigated by the FBI. I watched as the marijuana became hard to find and evil meth take over.

    The people of the Ozarks have always been clannish, hostile to outsiders and proudfully ignorant and primitive in their opinions of society and politics. Those traits are nothing new or something that manifested due to meth. But the introduction of meth has struck down many good men and women who might have made the culture a tiny bit more tolerant or hopeful.

    But along with the continuing devastation of multi generational poverty and vastly inferior schools there is also a great beauty in the land and the people of the region that you can see in a couple of short films shot in the Ozarks at. They both contain REAL footage of the real homes people have to live in there. This first film is primarily of people’s homes.

    or my longer version at:

    Many an unbelievably gifted musician lived and died in those hills never having recognition from anyone outside of the hills.

    I strongly urge everyone to watch this movie because it is VERY
    truthful and realistic of how parts of the US survive. It also shows a part of America that is VERY often overlooked because many are (rightfully) ashamed that this sort of 3rd world poverty exits in the US. I personally feel that the Federal US government needs to inject a LOT more funding and OVERSITE of the rural school districts in order to overcome the generations of prideful ignorance that governs the mindset of many born into that rural America culture.

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