Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010)

This was the first film I’d watched after I finished reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, so naturally it unfairly became that movie in which I’d inevitably look for all of Campbell’s factors of shared myth.  Sure enough, they’re there – the mythological hero (Ree, setting out from her common-day home (her run-down home and destitute, but good-hearted, younger siblings) being called or lured into an adventure (the need to find her bail-skipping father lest her family lose their home) and crossing a threshold into the wild and frightening unknown (the secret world of meth cookers), often guided by a helper or mentor (her uncle, the rough and often mean but streetwise (or meth-infested hell-wise) Teardrop), facing off against gate-guarding monsters / ogres (the terrifying old man and his (inbred?) group of hillbilly meth heads, Garret Dillahunt’s slackjawed and useless sheriff), and finally the gaining of a boon, in this case the atonement with the father (quite literally in this case, as Ree’s whole purpose is to atone with Jessup, whether he’s living or dead), which physical boon and the enlightened knowledge that comes with it can be used to restore the non-mythical ordinary world from whence Ree commenced her journey (again, her threatened home).  If I misread either this film or Campbell’s thesis in general, sue me, but regardless, the film certainly has a mythic journey quality, which while adding a level of excitement to an otherwise impossibly depressing setting, perhaps was the very reason why it didn’t click with me as much as it could have.  It just seemed like the lines between good and evil were too delineated, too apparent (with the exception of Teardrop, played wonderfully as an outwardly stoic yet undeniably conflicted man by John Hawkes) – Ree is the hero you can’t not cheer for (how she grows to be such a responsible and morally virtuous young woman in that living environment is beyond me, which may contribute to my problem in and of itself), while the meth heads, obsessed with mutual silence and weird semi-familial bonds, she must wrestle information from, both literally and figuratively, are the evil monsters she the hero must do battle with who you couldn’t find an admirable quality in with an electron microscope.  Despite Ree being an incredibly admirable and determined protagonist (Jennifer Lawrence displays a maturity much, much beyond her years in her performance), intelligent and headstrong, perhaps to a fault with how it often gets her into incredible danger, I would’ve liked to see more people and less archetypes overall.  Nevertheless, the cinematography and muted color palette of this wasteland are INCREDIBLE, and a wasteland it definitely is, like what you’d imagine the Ozarks would look like after Skynet used the world’s nuclear arsenal to destroy the world.  But no, this is the present day, and if this is really what this significant portion of America is like, with long-rusted over cars strewing the countryside and its inhabitants living by this extreme code of silence and territoriality, I have to get my head out of Joseph Campbell’s myths and face reality.


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