Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone takes place in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, where teenage Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is trying to provide for her household: her mother has become catatonic with depression and her younger brother and sister need looking after. Ree is considering joining the US army, on account of the $40,000 cash bonus promised by the recruitment posters. Her father is absent, and thought to be engaged in the criminal manufacture of crystal meth.
When the local sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) shows up outside Ree’s ramshackle property, he does so the same way any outsider pays an unannounced visit in these parts: very nervously and with caution. Outsiders are not welcome. The sheriff informs Ree, that her father has posted the family home as bail. If he doesn’t show up for next week’s court date, they will be required to leave. So, to keep a roof over everyone’s head, she must find her father.
The setting of the Ozark mountains is an interesting decision by the director, because it remains a mystery of some sorts to the ordinary cinema goer especially those from outside the USA. The Ozarks is a region in the U.S. states of Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The mountains cover a significant portion of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, extending from Interstate 40 in Arkansas to the suburbs of St. Louis.
Granik manages to bring the camera into this tight-knit community, which make be inaccessible to many. She creates the impression that everyone knows everyone and more importantly knows their business. This is one big dysfunctional family. This concept of the ‘family unit’ is shown by Ree’s encounters with the people in her town.
It seems that everyone Ree meets is a relative of some distant sort, and when she claims the connection in asking for help, people respond in a violent manner reinforcing their dysfunction. Everyone who knows the truth about Ree’s dad has a great interest in keeping quiet about it, in an attempt to keep their business and involvement out from prying eyes from outsiders.
Garnik manages to capture the poverty-stricken world of the Ozark mountains in a realistic depiction. According to an article at Medium.com by Joy Ellsworth ”Poverty here is nearly 10% above the Missouri average, it far exceeds Jackson County’s poverty rate, and it matches St. Louis City’s poverty rate — which is considered by many to be the worst in the state.” Garnik shows the poverty-stricken population with by the muted colours she uses: greys, browns, off colour greens and dirty blues. The use of a muted colour pallet helps to reinforce the weariness of this place, where the land and the people have lost all motivation.
In her article for Medium, Ellsworth goes on to explain how ” for children in this remote rural area, health and crime factors compound the severity of other family dysfunctions brought on by economic hardship. In addition to the chronic hunger and housing insecurity commonly experienced by our area’s families with children, nearly all of the children on our client list have been exposed to a mix of inconsistent health care, poor crisis support systems, untreated mental illness, habitual substance abuse, and violence and other criminal behavior.”
Ree along with her siblings are a by-product of their dysfunctional household but their situation is made worse, because of the location they live in. Winter’s Bone shows us that the real casualties of this location is the younger generation who are devoid of opportunities just like the land is devoid of colour.
Granik uses the location with wide shots capturing its vastness to capture the loneliness and isolation that Ree and her siblings face in this brutal, world. However, it is this unique bond that they share along with their upbringing, the fact that have lived off the land and how the location has shaped their personalities, which allows Ree to survive along with her siblings. The location may be tough and hard, but so is the character of Ree. If she can survive living in the Ozark mountains, then she can survive anywhere.