Bleakness In The Ozarks

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Title: Winter’s Bone

Rating: 5 Stars

For some reason, this film fell off my radar when it first came out. It was definitely my loss.

This is the story of a 17 year old woman named Ree. She is growing up very poor in the Ozarks. Her father, a meth cook, has run off, her mother is in a semi-catatonic state, and she is raising her younger brother and sister on her own.

The sheriff stops by and tells Ree that her father has disappeared. He’s due for a court date, and if he does not appear, his bail will be forfeited. Unbeknowst to Ree, he put up the house and their woods as collateral.  Therefore, if Ree doesn’t find her father in the next week or so, she and her family will be thrown out of their home. By this point, the home is the only thing keeping them together.

Not having anyone else to lean on, Ree sets out to find her father. She immediately runs into all kinds of problems. First of all, women have a strictly defined place in the social hierarchy. She grimly trudges on, even as men menace her and other women set themselves upon her.

Sorry for the spoiler, but the film is nearly ten years old. She eventually discovers that her father, despite being a long standing adherent to the local code of silence, had broken and was cooperating with the authorities. Once this fact became known to the locals, he was taken away and murdered.

She still needs to find evidence of his body or else his outstanding bail will still be revoked. After suffering beatings, ultimately some of the women take pity on her and take her out to a shallow lake where her father’s body was dumped. They take a chainsaw out and chop off his hands. With this evidence, she can now save the house and her family.

No one can say that this is a happy story. One of my favorite literary forms goes by various names, the most respectable of which is country noir. These are dark, violent books populated by tough, resolute characters following their own code. This is a prime example of this genre.

Ree, like many of the characters in the film, has a fierce pride about her as she unflinchingly faces her grim reality and does what she knows to be right. Even as she goes about trying to save her house, she still takes the time to tend to her mother and to raise her brother and sister, teaching them the same lessons that someone once taught her.

Another strong character is her father’s brother, named Tear Drop. He’s a drug addict and a lifelong criminal himself. At first, he refuses to help her. As her quest takes her deeper into the dark criminal world, he, like Ree, faces his grim choices and decides to the do the right thing and support his kin. By the end, once he finds out who has killed his brother, he heads out determined to try to mete out his society’s idea of justice, knowing that in all likelihood it will get him killed.

This, like Leave No Trace, which I just saw last week, is a reminder of the satisfaction of watching a quiet little film. There’s no Disney happy ending or Marvel explosive finale, but after the film is over, you find yourself thinking about and worrying about the characters, hoping that somehow they found a path out.

This is one of those rare cases where, having watched the film, I want to run out and buy the book.

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