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Film / Winter's Bone

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A 2010 mystery drama film directed by Debra Granik, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as 17-year-old Ree Dolly. With an absent father and a mentally ill mother, Ree is left to raise her two young siblings in a rural, Ozark community. One day, she learns that her father has put up the family home for his jail bond and disappeared. If Ree does not locate him within a few days, the family will be evicted. As Ree begins asking questions about her father's fate, she encounters increasingly violent resistance from local residents, all of whom are wrapped up in the meth trade.

The film and novel share some similarities with the story of Antigone since both female protagonists have to bury their relatives and must undergo a 'test' of sorts while journeying to do so received very positive reviews (garnering a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 90 on Metacritic) and Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal was especially praised (this was two years before she became famous as Katniss Everdeen).

Tropes present in this work

  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Ree and Little Arthur's attitude towards each other makes more sense if you've read the book and know that Little Arthur drugged and raped her before the events of the plot. The flashback scene where this is shown was Adapted Out, but the characters still act in a way that implies it. It is also never specifically stated in the film that Blond Milton is Sonny's father, though dialogue later in the movie alludes to it.
  • Age Lift: Thump Milton's granddaughter Megan seems to be a teenager in the film, but is somewhere in her twenties in the book.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Downplayed. Ree is savagely beaten—she even spits out a tooth—and for part of the film her face is a bloody mess. However, by the end of the film, she looks basically the same as she did at the beginning.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Practically all the people who hinder or physically deter Ree from her search for her father are actually members of her extended family.
  • Big Sister Instinct: One of Ree's main motivations in the film is finding a way to provide for her two younger siblings.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ree saves the family home and gets a fat chunk of cash in the process. However, her father is dead, she's left to raise her siblings alone, and her uncle will probably get himself killed while taking revenge. Also, Ree was planning on joining the army as a way out of her dead-end town, and now she will have to stay.
  • Blatant Lies: Blond Milton drives Ree to a blown-out meth lab, hoping to convince her that this is the fate that befell Jessup. She refuses to believe him because Jessup is known for taking measures to avoid such explosions. This is confirmed when she looks at the weeds growing on the site, which are far too high for the explosion to have been recent.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: When Ree is cleaning herself up after the beating.
  • Chest of Medals/Hat of Authority: These mark Thump as the supreme of the Milton brothers.
  • Crapsack World: The Ozarks are presented as a really terrible place to live. For a lot of the story, especially in the book, you could be forgiven for thinking it was set in a mild post-apocalyptic wasteland rather than the modern-day United States.
  • Determinator: Nothing will stop Ree from saving the family home. Nothing.
  • Disappeared Dad: The main conflict; Ree needs to find out what happened to her father.
  • The Dreaded
    • Thump Milton is a meth kingpin with a bare minimum of scruples and a Chest of Medals that hint his bite is worse than his bark. No one risks pissing him off unless they're truly desperate, and his own granddaughter says that she's scared he'll kill her if she does too much to help Ree.
    • Ree's uncle Teardrop is a violent, intimidating felon who even Thump is hesitant to pick a fight with.
  • Fever Dream Episode: Ree has one after being beaten, reflecting her fears about losing the woods and home.
  • Film Noir: Very much of the Neo-Realist variety. The plot is, in many ways, a very classic noir plot about a protagonist pursuing a seemingly straight-forward case (bonus points for it being a missing person case) that turns out to be more complicated and dangerous than expected.
  • Fluffy the Terrible:
    • "Teardrop". Real name: Haslam Dolly.
    • "Thump," although everyone in the extended family treats it as a Name To Run Away From
  • Flyover Country: The film presents a pretty harrowing worm's eye view of just what is going on in some of those tiny Southern/Midwest towns.
  • Functional Addict: Teardrop.
  • Gender Flip: In the novel, Ree had two younger brothers. In the film version, one of them is a sister instead.
  • Get Out!: Merab, when Ree snarks on Thump for refusing to talk with her.
  • The Ghost: Ree's father, Jessup Dolly, never makes an on-screen appearance. The closest are his literal dead, cold hands and a picture of him as a child.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The camera focuses on Ree's crying face as the women chainsaw Jessup's hands off his corpse.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Ree can be very rude and abrasive, but mostly just wants what's best for her siblings.
    • Teardrop is a real bastard in the beginning of the film, but shows stronger family loyalty toward the end, despite also being somewhat Ax-Crazy. He ends up saving Ree from a brutal beating, and even tells the women who beat her up that they have to blame him if they're going to blame Ree.
    • Merab. If your standards for a heart of gold are extremely liberal.
  • Kid Detective: Ree is helped and hindered by a number of people as she tries to work out what actually happened to her father, and displays a remarkable level of perceptiveness when deciphering who's telling her the truth and who isn't.
  • Manly Men Can Hunt: Ree encourages Sonny not to be afraid to rip the entrails out of a squirrel they've shot.
  • Meta Casting:
    • The soldier Ree talks to is a real-life Army recruiter. Their conversation was unscripted, and he responded to her inquiries as if talking to a real potential recruit.
    • The two children who play Ree's younger siblings actually lived in the house where much of the filming took place. The gender of one of the children was changed from the book (wherein both of Ree's siblings were boys) in order to accommodate the little girl.
  • Mexican Standoff: Teardrop has one with the sheriff by refusing to speak with him. The sheriff tries to press the issue, but ends up backing down.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Thump, the patriarch of the drug-cooking family.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Ree receives one from the women of the Milton family for persisting in trying to speak with Thump after having been warned not to.
  • The Napoleon: Teardrop, who is certainly not large or muscular, seems to inspire a healthy amount of fear.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: Averted. The squirrel which Ree teaches the children to skin certainly didn't come from the supermarket.
  • Noodle Incident: It is implied but never confirmed that that the reason Jessup was killed was because he was cornered by the law and ratted people out because of that.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Ree's friend Gail got pregnant from a two-night stand pregnancy, being Floyd's rebound girl for two nights when he and his girlfriend where fighting, before he went back to her, only to end up having to marry Gail in a Shotgun Wedding after her pregnancy became apparent. Something which has not provided them the basis for a happy marriage.
  • Parental Abandonment: Jessup abandons his family to fend for themselves. Ree's mother's insanity could also be seen as a version of this. In the book, the characters openly consider her insanity at least partly a deliberate choice.
  • The Patriarch: Thump has been described as an "Evil Uncle Jesse".
  • Patriotic Fervor: Hinted at around the edges. Homes display pictures of family members in the service. The local watering hole has a large, patriotic mural. The school ROTC is very popular. Ree herself has been considering joining the Army, and the impending loss of the family homestead adds urgency to the matter.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Ree and Gail, at least in the movie. In the book they've engaged in some experimentation but ultimately suppressed any true attraction.
  • Police Are Useless: The local sheriff is crooked, and commands absolutely no respect from the residents.
  • Promotion to Parent: Dad's gone and Mom's sick. Ree is in charge of taking care of her siblings now.
  • Real Is Brown: The story is set, and was filmed, in rural Missouri in the winter. As such, there's hardly any color to be seen.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The army recruiter is as sympathetic and helpful to Ree as an unconnected adult can be. The bail bondsman is also as helpful as he can be, considering he's just doing his job.
  • Revenge: Ree and Teardrop both repeatedly state that they have no interest in revenge if it turns out that Jessup has been murdered. In reality, Teardrop asks Ree never to reveal Jessup's murderer if she finds out, with the understanding that he would be honor-bound to kill them or die trying. He figures it out anyway.
  • Scenery Dissonance: Type 1. The film is a chain of horrible events set in beautiful, snowy forest environments.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: While the story takes place in modern-day America, where social services exist, in theory, it's entirely realistic that they'd be poorly represented in an insular and meth-ravaged community in the rural Ozarks. Ree considers it her responsibility to take care of her siblings, with her parents missing or incapable, and no one else who's around seems to question this.
  • Southern Gothic: The setting is an unfriendly, twisted town with an eerie swamp full of twisted decay nearby. There are also supernatural elements, and bits of folklore and legend are woven into the novel.
  • The Speechless: Connie, Ree's mother, who appears to have lost the power of speech as a result of mental breakdown.
  • Swamps Are Evil: Jessup's family's dumping ground is the swamp. Eventually, it's where Ree finds the dead body of her father.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Very common in Ree's world. When she visits the school, she passes a parenting class for students, and her best friend had to drop out of school and get married when she got pregnant.
  • The Tooth Hurts: Ree spits out a tooth after Merab and her sisters savagely beat her. Treated fairly realistically. She loses blood and has to take painkillers.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The community in general is one of these in spades, what with nearly everyone in town being in on the meth trade.
  • The Unreveal: While Teardrop does find out who killed Jessup, it's never revealed which, if any, of the characters Ree interacted with did it. Suspects Teardrop names in the book include Little Arthur, Sleepy John (who may have been the man who contributed cash in addition to the Dolly land in order to ensure that Jessup got bailed out of jail, possibly out of friendship, possibly to make him easier to kill), Buster Leroy, and Cotton Milton (all of whom are among the crowd in Thump's barn after Ree gets beaten up).
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: The men won't. So the women beat Ree instead. Amusingly, they are careful to tell this to Teardrop.