That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Winter’s Bone

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 6:03 pm—Film

Winter’s Bone (USA 2010, Drama/Thriller), Writers: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini; Director: Debra Granik

Winter’s Bone seems to be sweeping across the globe, picking up accolades and awards everywhere it goes. It’s like a force of nature. The film is so rich in atmosphere and ambience that you can’t help but succumb to it. It’s gripping. It has a feel as tangible as a chilling wind whipping through your hair; you almost want to wipe the loose strands from your face, you’re so convinced.

Winter’s Bone is based on Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel of the same name. The movie opens with an introduction to the backcountry of the Missouri Ozarks, where Winter’s Bone takes place. We’re brought in for a close-up view of the bleak and desolate landscape the characters inhabit. Tattered, faded clothes hang from the line. Mangy mutts scrounge for food. There are too many hands reaching out for too few mouthfuls.

This is the world where 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) grew up. This is where she lives. She’s doing her best to look after her mentally ill mother and two younger siblings. (Her best sometimes includes shooting and skinning squirrels for stew.)

Things get rougher when the sheriff informs Ree that her missing father, Jessup, a notorious meth cooker and dealer, signed over his property as bail; if he misses his court date, Ree and her family will be out of a home. Ree refuses to sit around and wait to see what fate will bring. She sets out to find her father and bring him back—dead or alive—to save her house.

There’s something mythological about Ree’s journey and the characters she encounters. That was the first thought I had after seeing Winter’s Bone, but I’ve since read the same interpretation in a couple reviews so I won’t harp on the film’s parallels with Greek mythology. I will say that Ree is asked to face one challenge after another as she delves deeper into the drug-ruled world of some of the most cutthroat people living in the Ozarks. And she never wavers in her courage to push through the mythology that surrounds the people in her path.

The strength of the women in Winter’s Bone is striking. Ree herself is nothing short of heroic in her efforts to unravel the mystery of her father’s whereabouts. She goes where no one else wants to go, talks about the things no one wants to discuss, and won’t back down no matter what she’s up against. In the midst of all this, she has to continually check in on her family to be sure they have enough to eat.

At each of Ree’s stops, women are the first point of contact—the sentries who often turn out to be running the show. This is particularly true of Merab (Dale Dickey), a hardened woman who shows up for the film’s most disturbing, violent moments.

Of these moments, the most devastating by far is the scene in which Merab and her two sisters take Ree across a lake in the middle of the night. I won’t give too much away, but Ree is asked to assist Merab in performing a task using a chainsaw. As Merab gets to work, we see Ree’s intense emotional agony spelled out on her face and in her body. She doesn’t cry; she holds it together, knowing she’s surrounded by danger. All we hear is the roar of the chainsaw, and it’s as if the saw is screaming for her. The scene is revolting in what it suggests, but equally mesmerizing in how it’s carried out.

Co-writer and director Debra Granik had some amazing tools at her disposal in making Winter’s Bone, including rich source material and a keen vision. She also had some extraordinary performers to work with. All the characters are intensely real, as if carved from the landscape. Local non-actors filled some of the smaller roles, and they complement the leads well, adding to the film’s regional flavour.

Among the leads, there are three standout performances. Lawrence is spectacular as Ree. She’s utterly natural and seems to have a perfect instinct for how much emotion to let loose. (The rest is visibly there, boiling underneath Ree’s surface but kept in check as a means of survival.) Dickey as Merab is fantastic. So is John Hawkes as Ree’s addict uncle, Teardrop. I’ve only seen Hawkes in one other film—Me and You and Everyone We Know, which I highly recommend. His performance in Winter’s Bone couldn’t be more different, and he’s equally excellent in both films. Here’s an actor I’d like to see a lot more of.

For all its dark tone and subject matter, Winter’s Bone manages to end on an uplifting note. It’s a far cry from the unbelievable turning points we’re asked to swallow in the closing moments of many studio films; Winter’s Bone’s final scene is still part of the same song that plays for the first 100 or so minutes. But you can imagine that Ree and her family will be all right after the credits roll.

Rather than coming out of her intensely awful journey broken, Ree emerges stronger, confident that she can survive—even triumph—in this world. The seasons are changing.

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