Winter’s Bone is a good and solid movie. It states early on what it wants to do and then follows that plan until the very end. There is a certain suspense to the question if Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) can find her father, so that she won’t lose her house but the movie is not the most exciting one, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It lives through its characters, the performances and its setting. Jennifer Lawrence is as excellent as expected but John Hawkes also does a great job in playing her uncle as an unpredictable man who doesn’t make it easy for us to like him. The scene in the boat is chilling and unexpected. I’m not sure if the movie is really great but Lawrence is so good and the center of the movie that she almost makes you forget everything else.
What impressed me the most was the character of Ree. How rare is such a strong female character that really goes her way all through the movie? She is independent and never really has to rely on anyone, especially not men. She takes care of her family and only once, during the whole movie, she seems desperate and asks her mom for help. What is interesting about her character and her strength is how she seems to be parentless. Her mother is only physically there and does not react in any way. Her father has disappeared and doesn’t seem to have been there much before. Ree takes over the role of her parents. She takes care of food and money, she teaches her brother and sister how to survive on their own by hunting and cooking. She can be strict but also emotional with them, making her a better parent than either of her real parents.
If we compare Ree to the characters in Never Let Me Go, she fairs much better because in the world she lives in, no one tells her what to do and instead she is expected to survive on her own and take care of the family. The world in Never Let Me Go did not really teach the kids how to function in the real world but only how to fulfill their short destiny, which they learn in their special school. But in Winter’s Bone school seems as redundant as parents. Ree knows everything she needs to know to survive and this is exactly what she teaches her siblings. What could they possibly learn in school that would help them in their lives? She is not stupid, instead she does a really good job of getting along. On top of that, she is determined and hopeful, which seems to be hard considering her circumstances.
So, how is that possible? No education from the parents or school and she turns out more than okay? How does she not despair or take drugs like so many of her neighbours or marry someone like her best friend? She could easily outlast most of the other women of the movies I have seen recently and she did it all on her own (as far as we can tell). Roger Ebert asked that question in his review and answers it with: “We are born optimistic, although life can be a great discouragement. In every bad situation, there are usually a few good people.” I like that answer although I’m sure there is more to it. After all, if you’re mostly free of the influence of parents and school, or society, and can support yourself, why wouldn’t you turn out to be independent, strong, resourceful and optimistic? And her problems only come from a law system that obviously is not fair and doesn’t seem to work. So what does that mean? The movie’s message is: You live better without this society? It does not explicitly say that, but it makes an interesting case for it.