The Mindful Bard – Winter’s Bone

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

DVD: Winter’s Bone (2010)

Director: Debra Granik

Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey

The Sweet Dignity of Human Anguish

?In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, ?Make us your slaves, but feed us.??

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

The teenaged Ree is an archetypal wise child, quiet and sombre, with a composure born of wrenching circumstances. She never takes out her anger or frustration on her family, and is always patient, gentle, and loving to her younger siblings and her almost catatonic mother.

Ree’s absent, drug dealing dad is on the lam. He’s put up the house and land for his bail bond. Trouble is, he’s missed his hearing and disappeared, and Ree is about to lose her home?and hence her family, which will be split up if they have nowhere to live. In her wisdom, Ree appeals to the sanctity of blood ties in an effort to get what she needs from the criminal family relations who surround her like barbed wire.

Her desperate drive to keep her family together on their land slowly reveals itself as a touching need for parents, and the sense of emptiness, chaos, and vulnerability that their absence breeds. Here is a young girl forced to abandon her own needs in order to stand in for people she can never really replace.

How did Hollywood manage not to ruin something so precious? And when this script was being pitched to production companies, to what vacuous blockbusters could they compare it?

The visuals alone are dumbfounding. The winter landscape is richly desolate, and for the interior shots, It’s like Shelby Lee Adams was told to keep on doing his thing but capture it all with colour cinematography.

There’s no lily gilding in this portrayal of the rural ghetto. The scenes aren’t sanitized by a removal of worn-out commercial products like trampolines, satellites, skateboards, MP3 players, and kitchen mess, but the artistic resolve has resulted in a film of jarring beauty, crowded with telling images, like the cement garden ornaments of happy children playing in the yards of people who’ve sold their souls.

This is consumer culture’s gruesome fallout, the place where old toys go to die but where you’ve got to kill squirrels if you want supper tonight.

There is a heart-wrenching moment when the little brother picks up Ree’s tooth?broken loose by fist-happy thugs?and gently places it in a jar of water for the tooth fairy.

Commercial interests exploit natural resources and despise natural beauty, and everyone in the moneygrubber’s wake turns evil. In the end the land itself cries out against the demise of the splendid peasant life that has been stolen from it.

And where to from here? the film seems to ask. The banjo remains, but no one knows how to play it. Yet in this moment, survival and family cohesion are enough to build a new life, whatever that new life might be.

Winter’s Bone manifests seven of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it stimulates my mind; 3) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 5) it makes me want to be a better artist; 6) it renews my enthusiasm for positive social action; and 7) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity (Cybiont).