Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Category: Week 9 Viewing

Winter’s Bone Close Viewing: An Exploration of the Epic Journey of Ree. By: Michelle Grinstead

Winter’s Bone is a film directed by Debra Granik, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell. Winter’s Bone explores the journey Ree takes to find her father so she can continue to take care of her family. The plot changes made between the adaptation of book to film with Winter’s Bone makes Ree a bit more like the capital H, Hero when it comes to an Epic Journey. The idea of the Epic Journey and Hero comes from the Ancient Greeks and is often used as a device to hold the plot of a story in both the past and modern times. The Epic Hero is admirable, protects people who can’t protect themselves, and honor provides them with the courage they need to take the next step. Ree is doing everything she can to protect her family this selfless act gives her all three of these traits.

In the book Ree wants to join the military to run away from her family and town, and in the movie Ree wants to join the military to get the money so her family can keep their house. She even wanted to take her little siblings with her to training. The line in the movie when her brother asks her if the money means she is going to leave to join the military takes on a much lighter meaning behind the question compared to the book. In the book, Ree not only wants to find her father to help her family, but because she wants to leave. The money in the book gives her a chance at freedom that nothing else could have, but with her father dead she stays out of a sense of duty. In the film her actions have an opposite effect, leaving was out of a sense of duty not a sense of freedom. This sets her apart as our Hero, but the journey of what takes place throughout the film builds the characteristics of her Epic Journey.

The first step of an epic journey is to show what the ordinary world looks like, in her ordinary world there is a view into her house, the children playing, the lack of food, everything that sets up her motivation to go on this journey. Her call to adventure is the officer asking her where her father is, and telling her that he put the house up for his bail and then went missing. There is often a refusal to the call of the adventure, like Achilles, but I don’t see one in Ree. There isn’t any way Ree really could refuse, she doesn’t have that option. When Ree goes to talk to Teardrop to ask if he knew where her father was, this could definitely stand as the talk with a mentor, but the advice was to keep her ass to the willows. This advice isn’t quite what the Hero would want to hear, but in this instance it is what Teardrop thinks she needs to hear. The crossing of the threshold was the crossing to Hawkfall to see if they knew where her father was, even if related to Ree, they were still the Other. When going to Hawkfall this is where our hero learns the rules of the journey, or the other side. There are moments of friendship and foe, she has both with Gail as the friendship and the Miltons as the foe. There are then setbacks in that no one is talking to Ree about her father, so she must go back to the Miltons after having been warned to not come back. This leads to the Ordeal which is obviously the beating by the Matriarchs of the Milton family. The Reward phase of this story is both a combination of the reward and the resurrection phase in that she gets what she needs to fix her family, but also has to  face one big final challenge to get it. She has to cut off the hands of her father’s corpse. This acts as her true final act, but she can’t do this, she needs help and receives it. Ree’s final task is finished, and she gets the proof, her father’s hands,  and turns them  into the officer to prove her father is dead. She has taken the road back, and is given money from the jail bond to help take care of her family. This is her magical elixer, her home and the means to provide.

The Epic Journey list of events shows the steps of the journey taken in the film, but even with this as the backbone there is still so much more in the film that symbolize her journey. Ree is walking up hills and through paths and you see her skinny knees peeking through the tears in her jeans. The constant shots of Ree walking and moving forward show the journey taking place. The film supports this by showing her moving constantly trying to find the solution to her problem. Even before she knows Jessup put up the house she is seen walking with the horse, because they have no way to feed it. Ree is consistently  trying to take care of her family, she is already on a journey before the major appearance of her problem.

Of course there are certain traits of the town that set Ree up to be the Hero; her father leaving, her mother unable to care, her neighbors unable and at times unwilling to help, and the strong sense of responsibility towards one’s family that is common in small communities. Ree is in a place where she doesn’t quite know how to make things right for her family, but just that she has to. There is quote in the book that for me really sets Ree up to be the person she has to be sense it feels like no one else can. “Nobody here wants to be awful, it’s just nobody here knows all the rules yet, and that makes a rocky time.” (Pg. 37 Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell.) Ree goes on her journey and puts herself in danger several times, because she doesn’t know all of the rules yet, and it seems neither does anyone else. Sometimes when things go downhill you just have to be Ree, you have to be the Hero.

Works Cited

Winter’s Bone. Dir. Debra Granik. Gryphon, 2010.

Woodrell, Daniel. Winter’s Bone: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown, 2006. Print.


Art & Fear Close Reading-Chloe Marina


[Put in the close viewing category because there is no week nine reading category.]

Art and Your Paralysing Fear of Failure


I am utterly terrified of art. And I am utterly terrified of failure. These two things are one in the same. (Although part of my fear of art stems from how creepy I find museums. That stuff has somehow made it through hundreds of years of human history just so I can stare at it for about two minutes. I don’t get it.)

In this close reading I am going to be focusing on the section “Fears About Yourself” which goes from pages 23 to 36.

This is not a novel and this section is trying to tell me things about myself. Some of which I want to hear, “After all, someone has to do your work, and you’re the closest person around.” (page 26) Some of which I do not want to hear, “When you act out of fear, your fears come true.” (page 23) Because this is not a novel and I don’t like things that try to tell me why I approach things the way I do, I have no idea on how to approach this. So this will be an adventure in both writing and fear.

Firstly I would like to write about the writing style. It’s not written like a Book About Things like the sort we like to imagine when we think about textbooks. But then, if we stop and really think about textbooks, you know the weird twenty years out of date health books you read in science class or the required book written by the professor in Communications 101 at WSU, we realize this is written very similarly to those textbooks. Bad jokes, a familiar tone that is supposed to make you comfortable but actually just makes you profoundly uncomfortable, and some useful information.

Now, there are parts that deviate from the straight weird textbook tone. For example on page 28 there is a box around some text. The heading in that box reads “A Brief Digression in Which the Authors Attempt to Answer (or Deflect) an Objection.” And indeed, within that box they deflect and objection that was not yet fully formed in my head.

As much as I would truly love to hate this book just because of how much it reminds me of my required communications textbook at WSU, I can’t. It’s weird and kind of campy and full of bad analogies that the authors acknowledge as bad analogies, and, ultimately, some good advice.

The first subsection within “Fears About Yourself” is “Pretending.” I honestly think it’s one of the most important sections for young artists and the like. I don’t think I’ve talked to a single person in this class about our projects without one of us worrying that we’re just pretending to be able to do things. No matter how many people tell me I’m actually not a terrible writer, no matter how many times I get published, I will still probably think it’s a fluke and I’m a phony. I could win a Pulitzer and still think I’m just mediocre at writing. And I know almost everyone feels the same way. (And can I just say how stressful it is to write about being a writer?)

The fact that what art is is an ever changing discussion with no right answer and everyone just bumping into each other confused and looking for food (much like my experience of adult life) does not help not feeling like a phony. The book asserts this on page 25 with something of an okay analogy about chess. “After all, if there were some ongoing redefinition of ‘what chess is’, you’d probably feel a little uneasy trying to play chess.” Furthermore in this fun little chess analogy, the book asserts, “Then again you might conclude that since you weren’t sure yourself what chess was, you weren’t a real chess player and were only faking it when you moved the pieces around.” The book is not wrong, I am not a real chess player.

A later subsection of “Fears About Yourself” is entitled “Magic.” It describes a scenario in which the general “you” is attending an art opening with work that is so pointed so whole and unflawed and matches up with the artist’s statement so well that it seems like that body of work is inevitable. And then the general “you” begins to think “…your work doesn’t feel inevitable (you think), and so you begin to wonder: maybe making art requires some special or even magic ingredient that you don’t have.

Of course it does. Of course that’s true. There must just be something the general you and the specific I are lacking. Because why haven’t I gotten a book of short stories published? Why haven’t you been showcased at film festivals? Why hasn’t my friend had a solo gallery opening? The answer, in my case at least, is I haven’t tried to make that happen and I haven’t put in the time to make my work that quality. Oops.

There is actually no way to pretend you’re making art, as the book very clearly states. You cannot pretend to write a short story while not actually writing a short story, at least as far as end results are concerned. Because the pretended short story that you have not written because that would defy all logic, does not exist and therefore cannot be read and therefore cannot be held against you. Actually, that sounds pretty nice.

Now all is said and done. This was a good little book full of not so harsh realities and some not so truly terrible jokes. Despite what I would like to believe.

Close Viewing: “Perchance”

In Caryn Cline’s film “Perchance” found 16mm footage from two different educational films are re contextualized through montage. The faded images are edited and combined using an optical printer. Whatever original intention was behind the footage is remixed into a story that follows a young boy who explores the world and him self in a dream.

            The style and language of Cline’s film is very poetical, drawing from different elements of the natural world and conscious memory of the human mind. This dichotomy can be seen when juxtaposing the footage of the wild ocean and the young boy. What bridges these two pieces of the film is the metaphorical editing language. This can be seen in the editing of the audio where the sounds of the ocean bleed over into the footage of the boy. This language requires the viewer to read closely into whether what is seen is a memory or dream.

            The symbols in the film invite the viewer in this dream world. We see seagulls, seashells in hand, and the ending shot of the tide with a rotating dutch tilt. These different things all have different meaning in this realm. The style of using footage with two different colors creates a further separation between a waking and dreaming life. Moving back and forth between red and blue helps to differentiate between different modes of memory.

The abstracted relationship between the visual and narrative structure of the film is all part of the decision to use found footage. This abstracted relationship reveals something about how we see memory and the process of taking external footage and internalizing and then putting it out into the world with new meaning.

Close Viewing

The nominees for the “Best Actress” category at the 83rd annual Academy Awards included Annette Benning, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, and a mostly-unknown actress named Jennifer Lawrence. Though it was Portman who took home the Oscar, the nomination of twenty year old newcomer Lawrence was arguably the bigger talk of the ceremony. It was her turn as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone that earned her the nomination and would, ultimately, catapult her into the world wide megastar she’s become. Since then she has starred in two major franchises, won two academy awards, and is currently one of the highest paid actors in all of Hollywood. She has proven herself time and again as a talented performer capable of both commercial and critical success. And for many, myself included, it is assumed that her role in Winter’s Bone, the genesis of #JLAWR as we know her today, is nothing short of incredible.
But how many people, myself included, have ever actually read Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone?
Literary adaptations are divisive, to say the least. Rarely can a film capture the full essence of a novel. A movie has neither the means nor the time to replicate a book’s every plot point or character nuance, and so it must “adapt” the best it can. Two characters become one, summer becomes fall, ten years becomes six months, and etc. The phrase typically heard after watching a literary adaptation is, “the book’s better.” But “better” is a relative, subjective word. “Different” is the one that should be used.
A movie is never the exact same as the book. Something always changes. And it’s in that change, that difference, people get hung up and boldly claim a movie is “worse” than wherever it came from. How wild the filmmaker veers from the source material usually determines the reader’s opinion of the film. In rare cases a literary adaptation may elevate the source enough for the film to stand on its own in a positive light. A good example would be the Coen brother’s adaption of No Country for Old Men, which keeps the story near-identical to Cormac McCarthy’s novel but utilizes transformative acting, sound, and cinematography in a way that makes the story feel larger than life. The film is comparable to the book as an equally powerful work of art. This is a best-case scenario, and very few adaptations reach such a level.
So it’s not surprising that Winter’s Bone falls somewhere in the middle. It isn’t No Country for Old Men, but isn’t Eragon, either (author’s note: Eragon is a movie based on the popular fantasy series by Christopher Paolini that butchered and changed its source to a criminal degree. It is one of the worst adaptations I’ve ever encountered…). Winter’s Bone is mostly faithful to its book, keeping the major plot points, a lot of the same characters, and in general it does a good job of adapting the basic story of Woodrell’s novel.
As a standalone film, not necessarily an adaptation, it works well as a gritty, low-budget indie, with strong performances and an excellent use of setting. The music, in particular, is effective in creating the atmosphere of the movie, giving the dark, dilapidated imagery a healthy undercurrent of dread and hopelessness. The film’s aesthetics work together to tell a captivating story, and it makes sense why it received recognition at the 83rd annual Academy Awards.
But did any of the voters that year read the book it was based on?
If you put Winter’s Bone the movie next to Winter’s Bone the book it doesn’t matter how faithful the filmmakers were to the story or the characters. Yeah it’s relatively the same, but it’s also totally different. The film is competent as an adaptation, but it strips away the poetry of the prose. Where Debra Granik created a “realistic” film about a girl and her quest to find her missing father in the alien world of the Poor South, Woodrell tells that same story but with a layer of beauty and magic decidedly missing from its silver-screen sister.
Do I want to say the book is better than the movie? No. Because I can be objective enough to appreciate each has its merit. On its own, again, the movie is fine. But as someone who’s read the book now, it’s impossible to be completely objective and pretend like the movie doesn’t live in the shadow of its source material.
There are small changes I didn’t like but understand, such as Ree wearing jeans and t shirts instead of dresses, or the movie taking place in fall/spring as opposed to winter (read: the lack of snow as a “character”), or it being a brother and a sister instead of two brothers, or making Teardrop more human and less cranked-out, terrifying anti-hero, or how the family ties and history are left out, or how Ree doesn’t get beat quite as bad by Thump Milton’s wife, or…. These are details that were changed in order to fit the narrative and/or budget constraints. In general it’s pretty faithful. Granik left out the sexual tension between Ree and Gail but that’s OK because how do you include an unexplainable-but-definitely-present subplot that operates entirely on subtext? I get it.
What I don’t get, though, is Jennifer Lawrence. In 2011 she was nominated for “Best Actress” at the Academy Awards for her portrayal of Ree Dolly. And it’s here I cannot separate the movie from the shadow of its source. I cannot be objective and say I “understand” the changes the filmmakers made in her character. I flat-out don’t think J-Lawr did a good job. Is this because I’m comparing the book and the movie? Absolutely.
Woodrell’s novel is told from the point of view of Ree. She is our protagonist, our hero, our narrator, our eyes. We feel her ups and downs; we see her resilience; we hear her intelligence. Sure, Woodrell has a hundred and eighty pages to develop her character, Granik a couple hours, but there could have been a middle ground.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree with such a reserved presence as to almost entirely rid the character of its strength. Gone is the spark, the sass, the color of the book’s Ree Dolly. Although a lot of the novel is told from the interior, there’s snap in the dialogue — a tangible energy and sense of character that only builds the more you get to know Ree. In the movie her character is static. We are shown a journey from beginning to end, but Jennifer Lawrence seems unchanged — as flat at the finish as the start. The closing pages of the book give us a Ree who seems hopeful, sack of money in hand, looking to buy a car and start down the road to her future. The last shot of Jennifer Lawrence gives us little idea what her future may hold. As the credits rolled I had no idea how she felt about the past two hours.
What I wonder, then, is how different my opinion might be if I’d never read Winter’s Bone. Would the movie, or more specifically, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, felt so muted? So bereft of vibrancy? Whether the book or movie is “good” or “not good” is irrelevant. This isn’t is a case of one version being “stronger” than another. They’re different mediums, with different limitations and intents. What it comes down to is personal connection. Which version of Winter’s Bone resonated the most? And, ultimately, is there a middle ground that could have been bridged between them? Is it selfish that I want the movie Ree to be more like the book Ree? Maybe there isn’t an answer. It’s all subjective anyway, right?


CLOSE VIEWING – Winter’s Bone

When we watch films, we enter another time and space. We enter a world we may or may not be familiar with. We travel someplace else without even moving our bodies. When we watch films, we suspend judgement, allowing ourselves to believe what we’re seeing in order to enjoy what’s unfolding before us.

To help the audience participate, the filmmakers have some things up their sleeves that they can do. Things that are subtle, small, that melt into the scene, quietly aiding in building the world the audience is experiencing.

It’s all in the details. How the characters dress, what they’re occupying their hands with, the objects of their life, the small details of their world. Details let us further into their lives and help us relate to them, believe they’re real. Those details might not be apart of the main storyline; they provide no obvious obstacles or aid to the characters, but rather help to flesh out their world. Nevertheless, details tell us about the characters in one way or another.

In Winter’s Bone, the wardrobe hugely lets us into Ree’s world. It tells of the kind of people who are in the story. Lots of plaid, jeans, boots, heavy coats and sweaters. Earth colors, browns, greens. Their clothes are worn. They could have been handed down though the family, or worn down from working. One gets the impression that the people of Winter’s Bone are hardworking, doing what they can to survive. Even Ree’s necklace she always wears speaks of survival, a tribal-esk tooth of some sort hanging on string. Wardrobe can also tell of status. The head honcho probably dresses differently from those under them.

Often in art-house or independent films, there are shots that are geared towards world building, supporting the story by showing us what else is happening in that world. They aren’t exactly inserts or establishing shots. The filmmakers have taken a moment to peer closer and observe. These type of shots show the cluttered world of Winter’s Bone, the quiet force of nature, what characters do in their free time. Through these shots the audience feels as if they’re actually there, observing the goings-on of this place.

Props. Belongings. They speak of the characters, giving them life and believability. Throughout the film, Ree returns to the closet full of her dad’s clothes. His scent and memory linger on though his coats and shirts, and Ree goes to them when he’s on her mind. Although he has left Ree and her family, Jessup is still her dad. You can feel the conflicting emotions going on inside of Ree as she looks at her father’s clothes.

Or Ree’s little sister. Her toy horses tell us of her childlike nature, her love for animals. But also of a special connection between her and her father. A small handmade horse, crafted especially for her. Or in the end, Ree sits with her brother and sister, and they cradle baby chickens. They chirp, swaddled in blankets. They are young and full of potential. Ree’s sister plucks at a banjo, once belonging to her father. And there is a feeling of new beginnings, and comfort.

The wardrobe, the shots dedicated to observation, the props, they all immerse us into the world of the film, adding to its believability in little ways, bringing the characters to life. In this way it’s the details that matter the most, that allow us to enter into another time and space.



Screenshot of my video essay in Final Cut Pro:

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.18.29 PM



Art & Fear Close Reading

Austin Milner
The Eye of the Story
Close Reading
Week Nine


A close reading with considerable emphasis on “Finding Your Work” (P.I S.V) and The Outside World (P.II S.I)

The subtitle of Art & Fear, “Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making”, sums up how it feels to be an artist, a struggling one at least, in the way that the negative, the fear, is always the more constant emotion lingering in one’s mind. The fact that Bayles and Orland put “and Rewards” in parenthesis points to this fact by unintentionally (or maybe it is) placing the importance of the title on the word “Peril”, a negative, though really just cautious, tone that continues to shadow the corners of Art & Fear from start to finish. Art & Fear, out of all the texts we have read this quarter, stands out to me as being the most useful for my own personal path in life. Bayles and Orland state that it is essential to use one’s previous artistic work as a “guide” when creating new pieces of art. Alongside my previous works of art I plan on using Bayles and Orland’s writing as a comprehensive guide, a guide to the personal guide one might say.
It is difficult to pick a select passage among the nine chapters that make up the two parts of Art & Fear solely based on the fact that I love every single page of this book. It’s safe to say that one would be hard pressed to find any book in my library with more writings in the margins or more highlights in the pages than this book. That being said I felt a distinct connection with the last chapter of Part One, titled “Finding Your Work”, and the first chapter of Part Two, titled “The Outside World”. I’m focusing on these two sections not only because they provide a unique perspective into how one goes about the process of making art and of making art for the world but also because I also think that there is a sort of shift in thinking, or at least in writing style, among the two authors of the text.
Part One appears to, on one end, boast a more optimistic approach to the creation of art, and on the other, call attention to the risks of art making in the personal sense in such a way as to focus on the insecurities of the artist in direct connection to oneself. Part two, especially in the first chapter talks about those ideas as well but adopts a more realist, almost pessimistic attitude (of which the texts even calls attention to itself at several points). It appears to be that the pessimism might come from the authors themselves and how they feel the state of the world is at the current time of the books publication (1993). This is not surprising to me, as the latter half of Art & Fear spends a good amount of time discussing American society and how is clashes with the artistic process and, more importantly, how it can easily corrupt the mind of an artist in any medium, especially the performing or media related arts.
It appears to me, if I am reading into the text as I assume others might be as well, that Capitalism is, though not entirely, what we can place a fair amount of the blame on for at least the current state of the “failed artist”. In a Capitalist society, such as the United States of America and in any country that it’s citizens operate under a lifestyle of consumer culture; art will always suffer because it serves the audience more than it serves the artist. One of the most important thing that I think can be gained from Art & Fear is that the artist must always create art for themselves and for the betterment of the understand of their own life, in whatever way that may be. The second an artist makes a piece for whom the want it to be seen instead of for what they themselves truly see, the art ceases to become genuine and is then a fragment of the artwork, hallow, an imitation.
What I believe that Art & Fear is trying to say more than anything else is that the artist must trust their own path must create their own path and must accept what that path turns out to be, no matter how muddy it may seem or become. A passage of significant importance that struck me while reading the book to such an extent that I literally just highlighted the entire two-page spread was one about how the artist creates their work and how the audience will never care about the process but that it is vitally important and inevitable that the artist them self will learn more from the process of creating art than anything else.

© 2022 Eye of the Story
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

Log inUp ↑