Sometimes when I think back on certain movies, I see them in my mind’s eye as shot in monochrome, much like I imagine the grey ash of nuclear winter. It is how The Road, I think, should have been shot. Of Enemy at the Gate I remember muddy grays. Bleakly monochromatic is also how I remember Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. But the bleakness of Winter’s Bone cannot mask its beauty. The mythical quest and unwavering performance of Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly is anything but bleak or monochromatic. At the heart of Winter’s Bone (adapted for screen by Anne Rosellini and director Debra Granik from Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name, and which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundown Film Festival)is a heroic seventeen year old girl who must find her bail-jumping father, or his body, to save her younger siblings, her mentally ill mother, and herself from eviction.
Mythical heroes exhibit unusual courage or strength [of character] or devotion. In her journey to achieve the difficult task set before her, Ree Dolly exhibits all of these. Like Antigone seeking her brother’s corpse, she is unflinchingly determined; she, like Hercules, endures many trials; and like Orpheus, she enters the Underworld, here of both methamphetamine cooking, Ozarks’ poverty and of death. She uses her wits and she is, with grace, aided from unexpected quarters. Ebert and others ask incredulously how could this courageous and determined girl spring from a mentally disabled mother and a meth-cooking father? To that I answer that mystery of origin is the very origin of heroes.
Just like a movie-goer suspends disbelief in order to immerse one’s self in the world of the film [I like to sit close and have the screen fill my peripheral vision], so, too, does the psychotherapist immerse herself in the patient’s world, accepting the psychic reality of what is presented. Worlds as foreign to us as the isolated culture of the back country Ozarks must become, for the therapist, our familiar, if only intermittant, home. The patient’s quest, and ours, just like the hero’s, is a journey of self discovery, which entails overcoming mythical monsters [many, internal], to achieve, as Joseph Campbell noted about heroes, knowledge or new abilities. Sometimes the most salient new ability is the way one is with others.