Thursday, 26 April 2012

Winter's Bone

I just stumbled across a short review I did of Winter's Bone last year. We went to Cornerhouse to view it with the rest of our critical studies group. It's an excellent film that kick-started the now flourishing career of Jennifer Lawrence, who has since starred in X-Men: First Class and The Hunger Games.
Click here for the official trailer.

Analysing and evaluating films as works of art: Winter’s Bone

The synopsis of the film highlighted the predominantly negative themes, and after reading it I was worried the film would be so depressing that it would be an entirely unpleasant viewing experience. However, the story had a surprisingly enduring sense of hope, and the determined struggle of the protagonist, the hardened mountain girl Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), was completely absorbing, along with the beautifully shot landscape.

The story centres around Ree’s desperate effort to support her family, who have been abandoned by their ‘crank’ manufacturing father and face the loss of their home if he fails to show up in court. Seventeen year-old Ree faces the daunting challenges of acting as a mother for her younger siblings as well as a carer for her incapable, emotionally withdrawn mother. Now she also faces the quest to find her father before his absence ruins everything.

The culture which is explored in the film reveals a tough, poor way of life. They are almost like a forgotten race, surrounded by the haunting beauty of rural America, where the law is ignored and the people live off the land. In contrast to the usual society revealed by American cinema, the characters find value and purpose in little but their family and their homes. The importance of family is evident throughout the film, e.g. in the way Ree’s presence is often only accepted when she announces she is the daughter of Jessup Dolly, a man whose name is infamous because of his dangerous involvement in the local drug trade. Her loyalty to her father is also subtly evident, despite his abandonment of his family.

Most of the characters in the film begin by showing a ‘tough love’ attitude towards Ree. The locals are mostly all aware that Jessup has been killed, but try to protect Ree from finding out. In her various visits around the mountain people, she encounters intimidating and violent characters, which gives the film an imposing sense of danger and unpredictability e.g. when Ree visits Teardrop (Jessup’s brother) he becomes violent towards her and his wife upon Ree’s insistence that he help her find Jessup.

In the opening scenes a muted, naturalistic colour scheme is quickly established, reflecting the barren and cold atmosphere which is shown literally, in the mountain terrain setting, as well as the grim, sombre mood of the film. The main colour which stood out from the mise-en-scene was a cool blue, e.g. blue cars, blue clothes, water. Blue can be symbolic of depression and coldness, two words which are extremely relevant in this context. It can also be associated with knowledge, something which Ree is searching for in the form of her father’s whereabouts. There is also a fair amount of warm yellow, suggesting the natural glow of firelight, mostly in indoor scenes.

There was very little non-diegetic sound, in-keeping with the rural natural feel of the film, although it was sometimes employed to intensify what was happening on screen, which worked particularly well in dramatising events because of the general lack of music.

The end scene of the film was in my opinion the most poignant. Teardrop shows his tender side as he visits Ree and her family, and plays them a tune on his brother’s old instrument. He indicates to Ree that he has found out who his brother’s killer was, and in the quiet understanding between him and Ree it is suggested that he is going to avenge Jessup, and in that case may never see them again.

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