A Cold, Grey Day In Winter’s Bone

A Cold, Grey Day In Winter’s Bone

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Artificial Eye

Release date: January 31st 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 100 minutes

Director: Debra Granik

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt

Rural Missouri is a valley of ashes blighted by poverty and methamphetamine in Winter’s Bone, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Debra Granik’s second outing is a harrowing re-imagination of the Odyssey, in which seventeen year old Ree treads the bleak geography, spotted with burnt-out cars and dilapidated porches, trying to find her truant father and save their home from repossession. He has pledged the house that she shares with her ambiguously debilitated mother and two young siblings as collateral for bail on drug related charges. As the trial approaches, Ree’s courageous efforts increasingly rile the fractured community, whose furtive narcotic habits and extensive criminality are bound up with the fate of her father.

Winer's Bone

This isn’t an obviously derivative film, but because it’s rather unyielding to begin with I tried to find my footing by looking for similarities with other productions. The mysterious absence at the centre of the story reminded me of the first half of No Country For Old Men and the second half of Lolita (the 1997 version more than Kubrick’s). The material and psychological destitution was straight out of Errol Morris’ documentary Vernon, Florida, and the impressions of small-town moral corruption struck me as very similar to Dogville by director and cheerful misogynist Lars Von Trier. That’s quite an ensemble. If you keep those films in mind, I don’t think you’ll go too far wrong with Winter’s Bone.

As the title perhaps suggests, the season is a kind of character in this movie. Lingering takes sweep the frozen landscape, caught in the stifled blues and oppressive greys of the perpetual morning of winter. It is tangibly cold and fearfully agoraphobic. You get a strong sense of the sheer boredom of privation and addiction from this; and the tempo of the film makes no attempt to compensate for it.

Winer's Bone

Every male character radiates sexual menace, with the exception of an enervated cop, and without the exception of Ree’s uncle. The women are either utterly broken or just cruel disfigured marionettes of their husbands’ designs. The awful glimpses of Ree’s very slightly older sister with her young husband give an indication of the course these marriages have taken. I see now that to call the women “broken”, as I have, is a horrible and inadvertent pun on the kind of patriarchal taming that appears to take place. As the men rarely deign to give their attentions to the vexatious girl, besides to clutch her face and inspect her like livestock, it is the women who minister of the abominable interests of their men, and in a way that’s much more horrible. It is often the case that the lackeys of power are more fervent in its exercise than the real proprietors; and Winter’s Bone is not the type to avert its eyes from actuality.

It’s a difficult watch. As Ree, played with sophistication by Jennifer Lawrence, stiff with the cold and dwarfed by an oversized dirty jacket, stumbles across the indifferent terrain from cabin to wretched cabin, the remoteness and absurdity of her position are weighed against the terrible personal suffering which our sympathies are enlisted to share. In the end, this is just a happening; and one has the feeling it’s a common enough happening. The impotence of the police is echoed by the impotence of the film to change anything. So what’s the point?

Winer's Bone

Is it just a cry in the dark? The writer, whose previous film was also about addiction, may have sought to ameliorate some personal distress by representing it- though it’s not polite to propose such readings. So is its motivation journalistic? To hold a mirror up to cruelty and suffering and compel us to change it? But how? Powerlessness, as I’ve said, is built into the story.


  • The Making of Winter’s Bone
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Alternate Opening
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Music Video ‘Hardscrabble Elegy’ by Dickon Hinchliffe

Is it then an emaciated story of redemption, another survival myth to add to the canon of human resilience? Winter’s Bone looks a lot like last year’s adaptation of Cormack McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel The Road, and perhaps the similarity extends to its narrative: a vague disaster (in this case not the end of the world, but the scourge of methamphetamine) has destroyed all happiness and poisoned natural affection with self-interest and suspicion. Only by the singularity of the human spirit, by extraordinary bravery and selflessness, can the world be redeemed. In the end of both films it’s just kindness- a kindness barely perceptible in the midst of universal barbarism- kindness and courage which break the spell of self-perpetuating evil. In that respect it’s like Dickens has walked into a Beckett play. But it’s much subtler in Winter’s Bone, and for that, as well as its unflinching representations of poverty and addiction, it should be applauded.

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