I read Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone as I had just come down with nasty cold and I think that it was the perfect condition to read the book. I shivered to my core as Ree was covered in ice and trudged through deep blustery cold. As Ree lost consciousness I was having difficulty focusing and staying awake. And when the truth about Ree’s father became apparent I was so shocked that I coughed a big veiny oyster out of my lungs. I could hardly put this book down from my engagement but I was forced to many times as I had to blow my nose; or if I ran out of tissues, spit mouthfuls of clear mucus into the bathroom sink.
Independent of my health I think this is a fantastic book. The prose describing the Ozarks is vivid and profound; the Characters are nuanced and multidimensional. The lives of this family are portrayed without judgement and I felt strongly for Ree and her family, and throughout the book I wanted her to find her father.
I’m intrigued by what the film adaptation will be like. A guiding question for this class is what can story accomplish? And I want to explore what a novel can accomplish that isn’t possible in a film medium. I’ve made a point of knowing as little as possible about the film adaptation. I also missed the Tuesday Seminar session due to the illness mentioned in Paragraph one. So my guesses about the movie vs. the book are purely speculative and I am putting myself at risk of being wrong. Let’s get started.
Throughout the book the action Ree engages in and the places she visits are weighted with years of history, personal memory and legend. The reader is not just following the protagonist but experiencing her stream of consciousness and the memories that are evoked within her as she visit each location. An example of this is in pages 64-69, when Ree takes shelter in a cave, we are simultaneously being informed about how the Dolly family has used these caves for generations and the Legend of Haslam. The action of Ree making a camp fire for the night is told simultaneously with the mythology of her family and the Mountains. In the novel this is accomplished by having one paragraph describe Ree, and then another describe Haslam and intermixing the three narratives as necessary.
It’s difficult for me to imagine how a scene like this might be accomplished in the context of a film. Literature tends to be much more like a stream of consciousness, but Film is a painting made of light and sound. In the book the reader has immediate access to the main characters thoughts and memories, but the viewer of the film can only speculate Ree’s thoughts based on the words she says and the emotions expressed by the actor. The film could have a voice over but voice over in film is notorious for being problematic. I personally feel that voiceover in narrative filmmaking needs to be used carefully, since in many cases it can result in lazy story telling. The viewer should be experiencing the world through sights and sounds, and voice over should only be used if the narrator has a unique perspective or affectation that would not be in the story otherwise.
Another example where Present action is blended with history and mythology is on pages 115-116, where Ree smells her mother’s ‘sweet’ breath and is recalls a childhood memory where her then cogent mother was affectionate and told her stories about the mythical creatures of the Ozarks. This memory is weaved seamlessly into the central narrative. But in a film it would be very difficult to communicate what someone’s breath smelled like without one of the actors describing it. Also that scene would require a flashback which depending on when it was placed in the film could risk interrupting the main story. Also such a flashback might not be necessary since I feel like a flashback of Ree’s mom before she had her breakdown wouldn’t encapsulate the mythology of the Ozarks the way this passage did.
This book beautifully weaves the present actions of Reed with the history of her family and the magic that Woodrell imbues into the mountains. But I doubt that the film will be able to do the same. The purpose of this essay isn’t to say that film is an inferior medium. I think film can accomplish things that cannot be done in literary form, but the stream of consciousness presented in the novel is something that film as a format is not well suited for. I doubt that the legends of the Ozarks will be in the film and if they are it will probably be reduced to some lame contrived monologue at the beginning and end of the film. And I’m sure the actors will say something along the lines of, “blood runs thicker than water,” or some shit like that.
But the present action of the film will primarily be grounded by the scenes preceding them and not the history that precedes the films narrative. I think that if the adaptation is to be successful it shouldn’t worry about the historical and mythological elements I’ve describe, but focus on telling a story grounded in the present moment. I suppose my opinion doesn’t really matter that much since as of currently no one trusts me to make a multi-million dollar film. Still it is my opinion, and even if it’s only as valuable as the paper it’s written on I’m still going to share it with the class.