Monday, December 6, 2010


Never ask for what ought to be given to you. That's Ree Dolly's philosophy.

But how can poor Ree survive without charity when her meth-cooking father has skipped out on bail, saddling her with the responsibility of caring for her ill mother and infant siblings? Oh, and he put up their house and properties up as bail bond. Oh, and did I forget to mention that Ree is 17 years old?

Not much hope for them, her neighbours, relatives and townspeople thought. She ought to sell everything off cheap while it is still theirs and leave, they said. And stop being a constant reminder of how grim life can be.

Set in the Ozarks, Winter’s Bone is a magnificent film about a young girl trying her best to keep her family together and is now faced with the seemingly impossible task of tracking down her absconding father so that he appears before the court for his hearing. If he doesn't appear in court, they stand to lose their home and every last possession. To track him down, she makes contact with the criminal network in her town. None of them care if the Dollys live or die. None of them want to help her out: I mean, snitching on a man trying to get away from the law? They'd rather let the Dollys be turned out of their home.

Those who do want to help her are powerless to do so. All they can offer her is spare change, a drink and a joint for the road.

Yet, every last one of them know exactly what happened to her father. Everybody tried to warn her (some using more persuasive methods) from asking any more questions about him. But how can she not? She has four mouths to feed and no support forthcoming. He not only endangered them with his trade, but abandoned them and then thoughtlessly put up their roof as bail bond. But he was her father, so she gave him her unconditional love. Besides, he probably did love them in his own way, she figured.

Jennifer Lawrence is superbly convincing as the stoical Ree, a teenager forced to be an adult. Her resilience never fades whether she is teaching her young siblings how to use a gun, how to skin squirrels, or when she is bodily threatened by the most hardened criminal elements in town. She towers like a bastion of strength and fortitude over all the other characters in the film. The only fleeting glimpse we catch of her innermost feelings is when she watches a group of high school students consumed in their mundane, adolescent activities. Or when she sits in front of her father's closet, caressing his boots. Only then does the chink in her armour reveal all her lost hopes and expectations she had as a girl. And then we remember that she is still, just a young girl.

I am reminded me of Sam Gamgee's wistful description of Lady Galadriel, "Sometimes like a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white daffadowndilly, small and slender like. Hard as di'monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars. Proud and far-off as a snow-mountain... "

That's Ree Dolly.

Her only equal in complexity is Teardrop Dolly, her father’s brother. He's a terrifying, face-tattoo-ed cocaine addict, who half-strangles her while warning her to be on her way and quit looking for her father. But beneath the cocaine addict, Teardrop is a regular badass, who is also wrestling with feelings of love, loyalty and loathing for his brother, and pity and respect for the family that his brother left in his wake.

Despite being set in the glorious backdrop of the Ozark Mountains, you can feel the Dollys’ world closing in; you can feel the chill of winter and their anguish (okay, this could be because it's December and I wasn't wearing my wool socks). Never has a movie made me despair so much for humanity, and at the same time feel comfort that perhaps all hope is not lost for us yet. You'll understand when you watch the movie.

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