ON LOCATION | Winter's Bone

A film dug deep into the Ozark dirt. By Louis Rogers


Winter’s Bone is the kind of film that puts a place on the map. Its depiction of the Ozark Mountains – two ranges spanning Arkansas and Missouri – doesn’t aspire toward documentary: it’s conspicuously narrative, with a mercilessly taut plot. But it does offer a detailed and particular picture of a place that for most viewers won’t be familiar beyond hillbilly stereotypes. While other films use out-of-the-way locations as a kind of atmospheric or narrative shorthand (and others still amount to little more than Tourist Board promos), Winter’s Bone entangles itself in the complexities of the place where it unfolds – one that’s often ignored or misunderstood.

Debra Granik’s vision is hardly dewy-eyed, though. Many grim clichés are engaged. The Ozarks of Winter’s Bone are loosely connected to the outside world, plagued by methamphetamine addiction and resulting violence. The residents eat squirrel and deer. The threat of incest isn’t absent. Yet Winter’s Bone never feels like it’s exploiting the Ozarks for shock value or simplistic grisliness, despite a plot that is notably, luridly brutal. Instead, Granik uses muscular narrative to produce intricate environmental immersion that leaves viewers with a multisensory impression of a place – its weather, its customs, its music, its textures and its social machinations. 

Winter’s Bone unmistakably achieves that too-rare feat of depicting a widely unfamiliar place and people without fetishisation or condescension. The film is plugged in to the community among whom it was filmed and it features many locals in supporting roles. During filming, a shipment of new Carhartt jackets arrived as costumes. They were roundly ridiculed by the non-professional actors for looking too clean and unworn, so Granik swapped them for the cast’s own well-used ones. Winter’s Bone has a similarly lived-in, hard-worn feel; it is a film with its feet on the ground, dug deep into the Ozark dirt. 

 

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