A cold, grim look at life in Ozarks

“Winter’s Bone”

Directed by Debra Granik

2010, R, 100 min.

Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is seventeen. She is mothering her brother, 10,  and sister, 6. Ree is also mothering her mother who may be in her mid-30s but looks 50 and is ill and uncommunicative.

The sheriff comes to tell Ree that if her father is not in court in a week on a meth-related charge, they’ll lose their house, which was put up for his bail.

The movie is her hunt to find her father.

“Winter’s Bone,” directed by Debra Granik (“Down to the Bone”) takes us deep inside the hills and hollars of the Ozark Mountains. We get the impression that Granik’s two years living there in southern Missouri had a profound effect on her.

The movie is based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell. It’s the story of the rural “meth lab economy” and its consequences.

“Winter’s Bone” is an anti-celebrity movie. Granik takes us into a world that seems not to be familiar to us. It can be dark, shady, shadowy and sinister. It’s also a world of closely inter-related families that have been there for many generations. We see the code of conduct, rules and laws that were created by the people themselves because the institutions that are supposed to help educate, protect, and develop people and their communities don’t exist.

We see the tension between how men and women interpret their rules.

We also get to hear their music.

The Chicago premier was at the Gene Siskel Film Center, June 16, where Granik did a Q&A after the movie.

Also playing there that night was Michael Winterbottom’s documentary, “Shock Doctrine” which features Naomi Kline and her book of the same title. That movie was about mayhem, murder and terror when you’re not the 1% that controls 99% of the wealth. Such an economic strategy started at the University of Chicago where Nobel Prize winner Milton Freeman created a theory and a practice that nothing is equal to the market and everything is for sale.

 “Winter’s Bone” seemed like the perfect example of this strategy.

“Winter’s Bone” tells of the story of the marginalization of an already marginalized people and its economy. Do you want to drive two hours each way every day for minimum wage at the country music spectacle in Branson? Or will you try to make large money producing toxic meth to destroy your “friends and neighbors,” people you’ll never know who are also marginalized, poisoning the land the labs sit on? Will you go into the army that offers its own set of dangers? Some might squeak through.

The movie is startling on many levels. Ree’s family is hungry and her load is heavy. But don’t we know many similar young people? Children, for example, who have parents that are not native English speakers, and maneuver through doctors’ visits, public aid and food stamp offices? Aren’t there a lot of children mothering their mothers?

This film brings to mind “The Long Riders,” Walter Hills film about the Ozarks, when the James and Younger brothers came home from the civil war, bitter and hungry.

Hill also directed “Southern Comfort” that took us deep into the bayous of Louisiana into a culture with which many are also unfamiliar.

In the Ozarks, moonshine production has a long history. Vietman vets came home and began planting marijuana which changed the area, just as meth, being more profitable than marijuana, has changed the area. But all are underground and “illegitimate” capitalist enterprise.

You see ties between rural and urban plights. Isn’t Ree the country version of a lot of our children in our cities? Why would you chew them up instead of offering a world they could thrive in that could unleash their potential?

The future of Ree, her children and her grandchildren and the earth itself demands that we crush the monster machine that’s crushing us.

Photo: Scene from “Winter’s Bone.”