Blog Directory CineVerse: The winter of Jennifer's discontent

The winter of Jennifer's discontent

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Actress Jennifer Lawrence has proven her mettle in numerous films over the past decade. But it was an early turn in her career, and Winter’s Bone, that particularly surprised audiences and demonstrated her precocious thespian talents. Our CineVerse group delved into this 2010 feature a few weeks ago and agreed on the following observations (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What was surprising, effective, memorable, or curious about Winter’s Bone?

  • The story takes place and the film is shot in and around the Ozarks of Missouri, a backwoods territory replete with impoverished people, bygone relics, antiquated technology, and densely wooded terrain overgrown with vegetation and wildlife. The setting serves as an important character unto itself, infusing the film with an authenticity and hardscrabble aesthetic.
  • This movie doesn’t rely on hyperbole, exaggeration, clichés, or predictable elements to entertain and enthrall. The protagonist is a 17-year-old girl with no superpowers, there are no car chases or shootouts, the violence is suggested and not gratuitous, nudity is nonexistent, and the characters refrain from speechifying.
    • Ed Gonzales, film reviewer for Slant Magazine, wrote: “Winter’s Bone is never less than notable for the restraint it shows in places where other films would have indulged contrivance. Though unmistakably bleak, what’s remarkable about the story is that nothing about Ree’s life is presented to us for our tongue-clucking benefit. For all the hardship that afflicts the girl, the story still makes room for glimpses of how people celebrate their lives—through singing, drinking, card-playing—and take care of their own, while making clear that Ree doesn’t want anything more out of life than to protect her family and keep what she already has…you get a very real feel for how people relate to—care and abuse—one another. These are not characters conceived as conceits, hoping for our validation by way of their learning to transcend poverty or figuring out how to live with others (usually non-whites), but real people simply trying to get by and be left alone, and with their dignity intact.”
  • The filmmakers aren’t necessarily trying to damn or indict this subculture or area of the country. This isn’t some cautionary tale about the dangers of trespassing or living in Hick-town, USA. While we are shown the evils and violence inherent in many of this area’s denizens, we also see how they can bond together, help one another when least expected, and play and enjoy music collectively. Likewise, the children seem happy and well-cared for, despite lacking a parental presence from their biological mom and dad. Consider, too, how Ree chooses never to abandon her family, even though she’s nearly old enough to join the military or strike out on her own.
  • It’s a bit of a puzzle how Ree, even though her dad has been absent and her mother is all but nonexistent, can summon up on her own the strength, moral integrity, bravery, and wits she will need to overcome the central conflict/challenge of this story. Where did she learn or develop these traits, for example?
  • Actress Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in this role, only 19 years old at the time of filming yet demonstrating a precocity, street-smart insouciance, and intrinsic wisdom that belies her years.
  • The implied violence in this story is palpable yet remains offscreen, which is a wise decision. We can only imagine how brutal the beating was that she endured inside the barn, how grisly the task of using a chainsaw to remove her father’s hands would be, and how terribly her father must have suffered when he was killed. We don’t need flashbacks or intensely graphic imagery to conjure up the dark pictures in our minds.
  • The film and tale also feel evergreen because the filmmakers shrewdly opt to keep contemporary technology out of the proceedings, including modern mobile phones, state-of-the-art automobiles, 21st-century firearms, big-screen flat TVs, and other trappings of the modern age that would perhaps quickly date this movie or anchor it in a specific period.

Major themes

  • Sins of the father visited upon the child, or how it’s hard to escape your hereditary.
    • Peter Bradshaw, film critic for The Guardian, wrote: “The drama of Winter's Bone looks like the intramural wrangling of one gigantic dysfunctional family. Pretty much everyone Ree meets is her "kin" of some distant sort, and when she claims the connection in asking for help, it enforces a resentful acquiescence but also the promise of violence if she pushes the privilege too far – more violence, in fact, than a stranger would get.”
  • The power and perils of family ties.
  • The “consequences of trespassing upon the past,” according to Bradshaw.
  • Bucking the system and finding courage and resourcefulness in a dangerous world stacked against you.
  • The challenges women face in a patriarchal society and culture where females are often subjugated.
  • The underdog prevailing against all odds.

Similar works

  • Frozen River
  • Mud
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Nebraska
  • Hillbilly Elegy

Other films directed by Debra Granik

  • Stray Dog
  • Leave No Trace

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