But the faultlines are different.
Some examples: bad weather still causes power cuts in New York, blacking out literally a million people at a time; the last one was only a month ago, apparently. To someone who grew up in provincial British towns where the last time candles were kept in the cupboard for anything other than occasional decorative reasons must have been in the 1980s, this seems barely credible.
In the US, you get billed for being rescued by an emergency ambulance. You have to pay for a trip to A&E. They charge you. I can't express how horrifying and bizarre this is, that something that is to us one of the basic appurtenances of civilisation should be just lacking.
And in the USA, poor people are much, much poorer.
I live in the poorest region (currently) in the European Union. I can hop into my car, drive for twenty-five minutes, and be in the middle of the poorest municipality in Europe. But nowhere in the UK, nine out of ten of the poorest communities in Europe or not, is there anywhere as poor as the region portrayed in Debra Granik's 2010 adaptation of Winter's Bone, one of a series of novels by Daniel Woodrell set in the Ozark Mountains.
|The landscape, forbidding, apocalyptic.|
Still, the unnamed community where Winter's Bone is set seems like a place of post-apocalyptic science fiction; scattered around the ramshackle houses is the detritus of a more prosperous age. Wrecked boats. Splintered furniture. Old toys. Everything is second-hand, everything is rusted, mouldy.
It made me angry, a little, and angrier still on my second, closer watch, that this is real, that people are allowed to live like this in the world's wealthiest country. These aren't the people who voted for Trump; these are part of the majority who saw no point in voting at all.
|“I could say it wasn't real, for PETA... but screw PETA.”|
It's a blood tie that drives the plot. At the start of the film, Ree's father Jessup has not been seen for a long time. The nervy, somewhat cowardly Sheriff (Garret Dillahunt, who's your go-to guy if you need someone to play a weasel) informs her that Jessup has skipped bail, he's dude in court on Thursday, and Ree's home and small plot of land, which is literally all they have, was put up as collateral for Jessup's bail.
And if either Jessup or the bail doesn't turn up by then, Ree's family, already surviving on the charity of neighbours, will be turfed out into the woods.
At the beginning of the film, as her brother stares hungrily at a neighbour's haunch of meat, Ree tells him never to ask for what should be offered. But Ree finds herself doing just that, going from house to house, door to door, asking neighbours and cousins of increasing distance where her father is.
He represents a world that Ree's father, whose business was cooking meth, was part of, but which Ree is set on never entering except as an interloper; even then, Ree is forced to meet a succession of increasingly terrifying individuals: Little Arthur (Kevin Breznahan), who offers a line of crank and explodes when he is refused; Merab (Dale Dickey), hatchet-faced matriarch whose grudging admiration for Ree's stones never tips over into sympathy; and finally local kingpin Stump Wilson (Ron Hall), a massive man whose only register is emotionless brutality. And while Ree understands that the one rule no one breaks is that you never go to the police, she goes beyond that, because to her, family means something. And only Teardrop responds to the call, without ever once ceasing to be a figure of terror.
Jennifer Lawrence was almost unknown when she made Winter's Bone, and her performance in the film made her a bankable star, and justly: she carries the film, she is its heart, and her scenes with John Hawkes, reliably good, and exceptionally good at being terrifying (see also Martha Marcy May Marlene), are highlights in a film full of highlights.
The setting is a character in its own right (helped by Dickon Hinchliffe's excellent, minimal sound design), the region shot to be as chilly as the reception Ree receives, and the location of the climactic scene, the film's one sequence of real horror, is as forbidding as any place I've ever seen in a film.
And perhaps Ree survives because she is part of the landscape, lives in it, understands it. Her dreams are of squirrels and birds, of the hills and trees.
Poverty makes brutes of us, but, Ree shows us that it doesn't have to. Winter's Bone is a poetic, sometimes bleak, ultimately hopeful movie. But mostly, it has a truth to it.