Thursday, July 1, 2010

Great Film: Winter's Bone

If you haven't seen Winter's Bone yet, I hope you do. Everything from the writing to the acting to the directing to the cinematography is dead-on perfect. And, in keeping with the welcome cinematic trend toward complexity and ambiguity - rebuffing the Forest Gump model of telling the audience exactly what to think and feel at every moment - it tells its story of bleak cruelty without dehumanizing the bad guys into one dimensional villains.

The long era of obvious monodimensionalism in film, thank goodness, seems to be waning (I'd argue the fatal blow was dealt by Capturing the Friedmans, and the astounding - and aesthetically provocative - feat of balancing its "Did he?/Didn't he?" tale impeccably on razor's edge). As NY Magazine's David Edelstein wrote,
There are moments in the harshly beautiful Winter’s Bone in which the characters are so deeply, unfathomably mean in response to a 17-year-old girl’s pleas to find her father (or at least his body) that we search their faces for a glimmer of sympathy, kinship—anything human [but]...This director, Debra Granik, doesn’t let the actors go dead: There is movement, barely perceptible, under the surface. Some vein of compassion, however thin, must be down there. Somewhere.
Not that the film's so extremely harrowing (I jokingly described it to a friend as "'Precious' in the Ozarks", but that was unfair), given its ample courage, love, and good music - plus the thin but palpable layer of humanity Edelstein describes. It does, however, open a window into a layer of human behavior most of us keep subconscious.

And it's important to periodically be shown humanity acting out its innate capacity for heartlessness. To be reminded, as we lament the selfish callousness of daily life, that it's downright miraculous that things are as generous and compassionate as they are. A number of us can walk freely without being attacked or subjugated, and lead lives with at least some amount of peaceful self-determination...if not full-out empowerment. None of that's a "given".

The beast has been restrained more than we realize. Humanity's come far from its roots in animal savagery, and it's easy to lose sight of this as we rue the remaining traces (and errant full-out bursts).

Update: I do agree with this guy to a certain extent, in worrying that audiences would take this film to be an indictment against Ozark people, generally, rather than a story of some dastardly fictional goings on by fictional characters in a fictional Ozark community. But the book's author is from there, and lots of locals were deeply involved in the film's production. Their labor-of-love help in getting this low budget movie made, despite its dark portrait, reveals more wisdom and sophistication than their supposed defenders would give them credit for.

Keeping all tales of non-mainstream people fuzzy and heartwarming may satisfy certain impulses, but such restraints are anathema for tale-tellers. As a member of five or six minority groups, myself, I find myself cringing whenever I see groups to which I belong depicted or discussed with anxious care and glossy patina. What awful thing, after all, are they so carefully dancing around?!?

No comments:

Blog Archive