This summer, people around the country will be seeing the movie version of Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel, “Winter’s Bone.” They’ll wonder if the movie shows life in the Ozarks as it really is. The movie was filmed in Taney and Christian counties in Southwest Missouri, during the winter of 2009. You can see the trailer and read a synopsis of the plot.
This movie, with its glowing reviews and big success at the Sundance Film Festival, raises a couple of interesting questions:
- Why do independent filmmakers focus on the gritty part of life, often including drugs and violence?
- Why do movies like “Winter’s Bone” provoke discussions about authenticity?
Comments to today’s review of the movie in The New York Times address these questions (with the usual pointlessness of online discussions).
I saw “Winter’s Bone” a month ago in Branson, in a private showing in which many members of the cast and production crew were in attendance. I had a chance to visit with some of them and to compliment director-screenwriter Debra Granik on the mostly outstanding performances that she got from the actors.
Ms. Granik told me that she chose “Winter’s Bone” because of its strong characterizations and plot, not because of the grim subject matter and not because she was interested in depicting people in situations involving poverty, violence and drugs.
Concerning the depiction of people of the Ozarks as uneducated, violent, and crude, I have to admit that the population includes a segment that is uneducated and violent and who cook and ingest meth. “Winter’s Bone” does not pretend that these are the only people of the Ozarks. The characters in the movie are mostly poor and many of them are physically abusive of themselves and others, but they are not treated with condescension or portrayed as stupid.
The Ozarks landscape itself is in its stark late winter beauty. The junky homesteads shown are simply what you see in much of the Ozarks.
Many of the characters show sensitivity and intelligence which they exercise within the bounds of their familial and cultural constraints. If the author or director imposes constraints that seem artificial, the reader or viewer will wonder why the characters did not take other actions. When you see “Winter’s Bone,” you can figure this out for yourself.
Promoters of the Ozarks will wince at the lack of anything in the movie that would encourage tourism or the movement of jobs to the Ozarks. Occasionally a movie does give a region a short boost, such as “The Bridges of Madison County,” did for Iowa. Can you think of a feature film that was an effective economic development tool?
With “Winter’s Bone,” I’ll remember the characters in a dramatic situations involving conflicts between father and daughter, neighbor and neighbor, older sister and younger sibling, and clan and community.
These conflicts are universal, not regional, and combined with the straightforward plot, steady pacing and good acting, “Winter’s Bone” is a movie that I’ll remember along with “Hud,” and “Days of Heaven.”