Winter’s Bone Exegesis

Winter’s Bone is a film by Debra Granik of the independent drama and thriller genres. Set in Missouri, it follows 17-year-old Ree Dolly – acting guardian of her two younger siblings. Her mother, while present in their lives, is mentally absent and contributes no help in raising the children and maintaining the home. When Ree Dolly’s criminal father goes missing, skipping bail, she must act before their home is taken as bond for his actions. The film is bleak and monotone. It is said that it appropriately reflects the location it is portraying for its gloomy tone. It was in fact filmed on location. In this town of “damaged humanity” (Ebert 2010), Ree Dolly’s hope and courage stand out in the film.

I have chosen to analyse the end scene of the film from times 1:29:40 to 1:30:10. Just prior to this scene, the Uncle has departed the property after discussing the death of Ree Dolly’s father and Ree Dolly has been given bond money from the local sherrif. In this scene, Ree Dolly sits on the porch steps, her younger sister then brother joining her side, sitting comfortably close. The brother asks Ree Dolly if she is going to leave them now that she has enough cash to make something more of herself and get out of Missouri. She says, “I’d be lost without the weight of you two on my back” (Winter’s Bone 2010), assuring them that she is not going anywhere. I think this scene is a significant reflection of the film as it demonstrates Ree Dolly’s commitment to her family; her willingness to selflessly do anything for her siblings and the dependence her siblings have on her to nurture and care for them.

The colour grading is stripped back and darkened slightly to reflect the cool weather as well as the chilling storyline of the movie. This is consistent throughout the entire movie with the exception of a few scenes which portray joyous moments at school and within the home. It also appropriately amplifies the hostility of the townspeople who are unwilling to connect with one another or assist when another is in need just as we see Ree Dolly experience when she reaches out. The screenshot from the chosen scene accurately depicts the catastrophic home; buckets and an assortment of other junk are haphazardly strewn about. This junk deteriorates at the doorstep of the home and no one desires to clear it. Firewood has been laid on one half of the porch, dwelling at its end. The clothing on all three characters looks to have been passed on several times prior before being handed to their current user. The pants on Ree Dolly are too short and her siblings are yet to grow into their own pants. The children clutch chicks – a gift from their uncle – as they speak with Ree Dolly.

In this scene, the camera angle changes only once to catch a close-up of the children as they communicate. The scene is not overly edited – simple pacing and scene design doing the vision justice enough. Sound is raw, only the wind and the conversations being heard. This is the case throughout the film as music is not necessary to amplify the melancholy tone of the film. The silence allows the audience to feel the weight of the film.

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Winter’s Bone 2010, motion picture, Roadside Attractions, USA.

Ebert, R 2010, Winter’s Bone Movie Review and Film Summary, weblog, viewed 7 June 2017, <>.


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