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.
Winter’s Bone. Dir. Debra Granik. Gryphon, 2010.
Woodrell, Daniel. Winter’s Bone: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown, 2006. Print.