“Winter’s Bone”
 
“Winter’s Bone” is one of those slice-of-life films that transport the viewer to another place and point of view.  It’s set in present-day rural Missouri , but it feels like the back-country Ozarks of another era.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, the harried 17-year-old who’s trying to manage a household.  Her Mom is non compos mentis; we never quite know why, but from Ree’s point of view, it doesn’t matter, anyway.  Her mother has simply quit functioning as the head of the household.  She sits there like she’s not all there.  There are no grandparents around to help.  Ree’s Dad is gone.  She has a younger brother (ten or eleven) and a little sister (four or five), and they depend on her for everything: from fixing their meals to washing their clothes to sporadic home-schooling.  Ree will sometimes visit her own high school, but their cheerleading and P.E. activities seem sort of silly in the light of her daily urgent need to care for her siblings. 
            The pressure intensifies when Ree learns that her Dad, arrested for running a meth lab, put the homestead up as surety for his bail.  And now his hearing date is coming up, and nobody knows where he is.  Worse, there are rumors that he was going to plea bargain, exchanging information about his suppliers and clients in exchange for a lighter prison sentence.  This does not sit well with the rough-cut members of this isolated backwoods community, who apparently are all involved in the drug trade in some way.  This adds a fierce privacy to their already-prevalent impulse to distrust all civilian authority.  They just want to be left alone with their piece of property up in the hills, their dirt roads, their frame houses, their cowed women, their silent, grim-faced children, their shotguns, and their old pickup trucks.  Some do a little farming on the side:  a few pigs here, a couple of cows there, maybe the odd goat, some chickens.  Anything that would enhance their self-sufficiency.  Nobody seems to watch television, or have heard of the Internet.  There are no ipods or ipads here.  And they seem to cultivate being mean.
            But Ree has an overriding need to find her Dad, because she doesn’t want her little family to be foreclosed on, and she desperately searches for clues to his whereabouts, despite the active discouragement of everyone around her, including her Dad’s only family, a rough-hewn brother named Teardrop (John Hawkes).  Ree wants to discover the truth about her absent father, even if it’s unpleasant.  And we root for her, and her heart-wrenching quest, because she’s the kind of quietly determined non-complainer who never asks for pity.  She’s the kind of pioneer who first forged this country out of a hostile environment of unfriendly neighbors.  She can shoot and skin a squirrel as easily as she can cut potatoes.  But we grieve for how little she enjoys life, and how remote the possibility that she will ever really love another equally.  And the hard-core, plaintive bluegrass music adds to the melancholy of a hardscrabble way of life.
            “”Winter’s Bone” is not fun.  But it is compelling.  And it packs an emotional wallop.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas