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Film / Bastard out of Carolina

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"The day I was born started off bad, and it only got worse."

A 1996 drama film directed by Anjelica Huston, adapted from the 1992 novel of the same name by Dorothy Allison.

Set in 1950s rural South Carolina, the story centers around Ruth Anne "Bone" Boatwright (Jena Malone) and her mother, Anney (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Initially, due to being born out of wedlock, Bone just lives with her mother and extended family in the poorer parts of town. Even though she loves Bone, Anney hasn't really grown up too much and gets tired from working to support her and Bone and is needed for attention, coupled with having to deal with the stigma from having a baby out of wedlock.

After her kind and hardworking husband Lyle Parsons (Dermot Mulroney) is killed in a car accident, Anney goes on to remarry Glen Waddell (Ron Eldard), who at first seems nice and caring. However, after Anney has a stillbirth, things head south really fast.

Includes examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Bone's stepfather is very abusive towards her, beating her, molesting her, molesting her while masturbating, and raping her in the climax.
  • Coming of Age: More so in the novel.
  • Deep South: More specifically in small ruralish town of 1950s South Carolina (as the title states).
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • The whole part about Bone and her mother being looked down upon because Bone was born out of wedlock, including Bone's birth certificate stating she's "Illegitimate".
    • In the book, the doctor is angry at Anney when he discovers Bone has a broken coccyx (tailbone) and makes it clear it could only be broken either purposely or through a really severe beating. He is then escorted away by the nurse, who says he's new here. At the time the book was set (the late 1950's) mandated reporting laws did not exist - and in the place the book was set (rural South) there was and to some extent still is a huge distrust of governmental bodies intervening in family affairs.
  • Disappeared Dad: Plays a small part in the conflict, as, in the novel, Anney was in a coma when she gave birth, so she couldn't lie and say she was married, while, in the movie, Bone's grandmother refused to put the name of Bone's birth-father on the certificate (after she ran him out of town).
  • For Want Of A Nail: If Lyle didn't die in a car accident, Glen would never have come into Bone's life, and so much pain would have been avoided.
  • Forceful Kiss: Glen gives one to Bone after he threatens her.
  • From Bad to Worse: As the quote above implies, Bone starts off in a bad situation, and it only gets worse from there.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Glen, though this is more obvious in the book, however, him having this is what costs him his job.
  • I Want My Mommy!: Bone does this a couple of the times when she's in the hospital. The second instance is rather crushing.
  • Lecherous Stepparent: Glen begins molesting his young stepddaughter Bone and eventually rapes her when she defies him.
  • Mama Bear:
    • When Aunt Raylene finds out that Glen had beaten Bone, she tells her uncles to "Kill him."
    • When she finds Glen raping Bone, Anney's response is to hit him over the head with a bottle. But she still sides with him over Bone.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: Both the film and the semi-autobiographical book it was based on are centered around Ruth Anne "Bone" Boatwright, a young girl growing up in 1950s South Carolina; she's no older than 12 when the story ends (her actress Jena Malone was around 12 during filming). As the title suggests, a big part of the story is the stigma Bone and her mother face due to her being born out of wedlock, which young children may not fully understand. The part that really cements that this story isn't for children is Bone's Wicked Stepfather Glen, who physically and sexually abuses her (which is depicted graphically enough to earn the film an R-rating) while her mother zigzags between trying to protect her and being a Useless Bystander Parent.
  • Narrator: Laura Dern as the adult Bone.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Glen gets the holy hell beat out of him by Bone's uncles.
  • Noodle Incident: It's not really said what happened to Bone's actual father but, in the movie, according to Bone's narration, her grandmother ran him out of town.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Our protagonist is named Ruth Anne, but she has been called Bone since birth, as, to her uncle, "she didn't look much bigger than his knucklebone".
  • Parents as People: Anney would be a tragic deconstruction. You see, she loves her daughter, Bone, but, due to being so young and feeling lonely, she wanted more attention, leading her to take up with a nice man named Lyle, who dies, and, wanting to fill the void, decided to take up with Glen — and once she did, she couldn't imagine leaving him no matter what he did.
  • Parental Abandonment: Anney, still in love with Glen, at the end, leaves Bone with Raylene and Earl
  • Parental Favoritism: For as nasty as Glen is to Bone, he's every bit the good and doting father to her sister Reese. The reason for this fairly extreme disparity isn't spelled out, although there are some hints in the movie that Glen resented Bone for not immediately accepting him as a father figure (such as when he gets mad at her refusal to call him "Daddy" and tears up her photo of her previous stepfather Lyle).
  • Parental Substitute:
    • Though it didn't last long, Aunt Ruth plays this role to Bone. Later on, Raylene takes over this role.
    • Lyle loved Bone like his own child until his untimely death.
  • Rape as Drama: In the climax, when Bone refuses to live under the same roof as Glen again, he viciously beats and rapes her until Anney intervenes.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Though this isn't too clear in the movie, the book states that Anney was 15 when she had Bone.
  • Title Drop: In the closing narration.
    "Would I be as strong as she had been? As hungry for love? As desperate, determined and ashamed? I wouldn't know but I was already who I was gonna be. Someone like her, like my mama, a Boatwright, a bastard, a bastard out of Carolina."
  • Tragic Stillbirth: Anney has a stillbirth and is unable to have children again.
  • Useless Bystander Parent: Anney is this to a fairly significant degree. It's not a completely straight example as she does try to protect Bone from Glen's abuse, but she also keeps forgiving him. This contradiction is evident at the climax, where she immediately intervenes when she catches him raping Bone, but then forgives him minutes later, all the while Bone is sitting in the car beside her begging her to just drive away.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Bone has a little sister, Reese, but she practically disappears in the film after Anney's marriage to Glen.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Glen has no qualms about this whatsoever.

Alternative Title(s): Bastard Out Of Carolina