Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Winter's Bone

Note: I am again, as with other good flicks, talking only about the movie. I have not read the book, and did not know it existed until after seeing the movie. And I will likely never read it. Rest assured, I already feel guilty about this. Every time. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Winter's Bone is a drama. Not the kind of faux-Shakesperean Drama with a D toward which I generally lean in my tastes but a personal drama, the kind of gut-wrenching revisiting of life's struggles one generally associates with the "artsiness" of French movies. However, I generally detest those films. I despise the mundane, and the epitome of a would-be artiste's bid for recognition is usually the glorification of the mundane, of one's colloquial social interactions, as universally significant. I find this childishly small-minded. No, wrong word. Wrong world. As children, our minds expand in dimensions we can no longer even discern as adults. A reduction in scope to the sphere of acceptable human interaction, to dinner-parties and board-room decision-dodging, to the limitations of the body, to glorifying nothing but pissing and shitting and sex, the common abilities of common humans - this is the mentality of old age. It is a bid for the approval of tired, scared old masters-of-the-craft. A good movie on the other hand gives you something you haven't seen before or points you at what you haven't wanted to notice out of the corner of your eye.

One random comment below the film's trailer on youtube reveals the societal bias which lends it its relevance to modern urbanized audiences, especially American ones:
"Living in coastal California, I never could imagine that this type of poverty still exists in the United States."
Which type? Presumably, this 'type' of poverty was used to mean this degree of poverty, the depth of deprivation evident in the Ozark hill-folk characters' lives. Yet the life of many an urban slum-dweller is more dangerous and restricted.
No. It is specifically the 'type' of setting, the social milieu of a rural community, which is so alien and shocking to most viewers. Though geographically dispersed, the movie's characters are clannish and isolated from concerns outside their regional social ties.

The U.S. has developed largely without stable rural communities. Between urbanization, industrialization and the instability of frontier politics before that, it is mostly devoid of gemeinschaft social systems. Still, enclaves of village life persist, in the areas ignored and forgotten by the world at large. Their nature seems utterly alien to modern consumers who live and die on the whims of advertisers, ready to be uprooted by the fluctuations of the luxury goods market, immersed in fad after fad, building nothing stable, a single shifting globalized barbarian horde. Ree Dolly and her ilk on the other hand have grown into the landscape over the generations and could no more be separated from their tribal ties than trees from the soil. There may be something left after the procedure but it would scarcely resemble itself.

I'm sure much was made in commentaries about the methamphetamine angle, attempting to paint the story as a drug war morality play. However, Jessup Dolly's disappearance and the seeming brutality of the local drug cartel are not specifically tied to any sort of illegality inherent in their activities. It is only an aspect of the self-correcting nature of gemeinschaft morality. The backlash against any perceived betrayal of the tribe to outsiders or even the adoption of alien viewpoints is always viciously aggressive. That the issue at hand is guns, land, narcotics, moonshine, livestock, marriage or anything else is a single changing facet of the whole. Debts and loyalties are the crux of the matter.

What makes the movie so poignant is the overturning of consumer-society expectations of setting and procedure. There are no sitcom sets of cookie-cutter drywall living spaces. There are no familiar good cops and bad cops and the law is only an external, menacing force, not directly relevant to the characters' interactions. Houses are cluttered, dilapidated, patched, re-painted, lived-in. Cars look so used you can almost smell the previous generation in them. Teaching the children to skin and gut wildlife is a perfectly mundane chore. Unfortunately, most of the movie's viewers will write off all such unfamiliar elements as Ozark oddities. While the combination of methamphetamine, colloquialisms, hunting and the American flag may be unique to the setting, a tale of life-or-death crisis within a framework of tribal loyalties has a certain universality to it. The film's strength is not creativity, but awareness of the many-fold differences between its subjects and audience.

It hits home. It hits the weak points the audience has forgotten it has.

No comments:

Post a Comment