Winner of the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Film at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Winter’s Bone attributes most of its success to a healthy and robust narrative. Complete coverage of all Four Throughlines and story points that resonate with integrity, the film delivers a meaningful—if heart-breaking—message of triumph.
At first, one may consider “Saving the Farm” the centerpiece and focal point of the narrative. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) functions as both Main Character and Protagonist—why wouldn’t her concerns about providing for her siblings and infirmed mother determine the more considerable interest in the Overall Story?
The Overall Story Throughline provides a unique point-of-view of conflict that accounts for everyone’s perspective. This vantage point includes not only Ree and her immediate family, but also her neighbors, her close and distant cousins, and local and civilian authorities. Those who want Ree and others to keep their mouths shut about the disappearance of her father couldn’t care less about the Dolly farm—saving the farm could never be the subject matter of the Overall Story Concern and Overall Story Goal.
Instead, one looks at the source of all conflict in Winter’s Bone: honoring the family code and keeping your big mouth shut. Honoring the Family Code is attached to the narrative using the Overall Story Issue of Preconditions. Dramatica defines
Preconditions as limitations tacked onto an effort. This family code is not necessary—but it is something Ree needs to take into account if she is to survive her present ordeal.
Keeping Your Big Mouth Shut speaks of the Overall Story Concern of
Learning. Here, the act of gathering information—or learning what happened to her missing father—generates conflict for everyone involved. Ree’s pursuit of her father’s final days creates trouble for her, her brother and sister, her neighbors, and everyone else in and around that community.
Ree’s careful and methodical approach to taking the steps necessary to unlock the mystery of her missing father (Overall Story Catalyst of
Prerequisites) brings pressure because of this unspoken level of Acceptance for all that happened. Dramatica defines and Overall Story Problem of
Acceptance as a decision not to oppose and finds commonality in consenting to punishment and accepting intolerable circumstances. Everyone puts up with the backwoods system of justice administered by Thump Milton (Ronnie Hall) and his cronies because that’s just the way things are around there. Even the matriarchs—those who stand to lose the most from this inequity—punish Ree for not accepting their way of life.
Everyone suffers from this imbalance of Acceptance—including Ree’s uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes).
As the Changed character, Teardrops shares the same Problem as the Overall Story. His Influence Character Problem of
Acceptance drives him to grab the back of Ree’s head when she says otherwise and motivates him to be comfortable with looking the other way when it comes to the murder of his only brother.
Their dysfunctional familial relationship, steeped in their shared loss, skirts resolution as it dances with the idea that they could somehow be a family again. This Relationship Story Concern of
Conceiving and Issue of
Deficiency limps towards the finish line, finding an increase in conflict through a Relationship Story Catalyst of
Permission: when Ree refuses to listen to what she can and cannot do, Teardrop reprimands her.
Both niece and uncle know—in all likelihood—that they can never be whole again. This Relationship Story Problem of
Probability touches upon resolution with the
Possibility that he might return after he completes his brother’s errand—but even that seems close to an impossibility.
The relationship does, however, help push Teardrop towards his Influence Character Solution of
Non-Acceptance. His is not a Leap of Faith change; instead, he changes over time—unravelling his justifications until that moment when he instigates his act of revenge.
I was never good like your daddy was.
He looks down, pauses. Something is heavy on his mind.
I know who.
Jessup. I know who.
He walks towards his truck.
Now that Teardrop has learned who killed his brother, and in a place of
Non-Acceptance, he can exact his revenge.
And all because of Ree’s stable and Steadfast presence.
Ree balances Teardrop’s meaningful Change of perspective with her Steadfast Main Character Resolve. Her Main Character Approach of
Linear Problem-Solving Style provide her the external moxie needed to overcome the local policy of don’t ask, don’t tell.
Never ask for what ought be offered.
This line—in response to her little brother’s suggestion they ask their neighbors for food—defines her Main Character Problem of
Inaction. Dramatica defines Inaction as taking no action as a means of response. Often portrayed as a symbol of weakness in most Western culture, Inaction, as seen within Ree, establishes a foothold in the narrative and digs its heels in as the situation escalates.
Saving the farm may not be the concern of everyone, but the responsibility of doing something about it rests heavy on Ree’s seventeen-year-old shoulders. Her
Universe is this family and serves as the definition of her Main Character Throughline. The safety and protection of her immediate family is an immediate concern for her and an example of a Main Character Concern of the
As the only able adult in the Dolly household, Ree is the only one who can work and provide for her family. This Main Character Unique Ability of
Work grants her the ability to solve the story’s problems—but only after a few detours. The revelation that joining the Army would require abandoning her brother and sister and payment could take upwards of 80 weeks (Main Character Signpost 3 of
Future) sets her back on the right path towards resolution.
In the end, Ree finds peace with her responsibilities as head of household.
We heard you talking about the Army. Are you wanting to leave us?
I’d be lost without the weight of you two on my back.
Ree kisses her sister’s head.
I ain’t going anywhere.
Ashlee hands her chick to Ree. She picks up the banjo where Ree left it, sits back down on the porch, and strums.
While establishing the Story Judgment of
Good, this Triumphant ending carries with it significant negative Costs. Teardrop’s mission weighs heavily on their minds and the song they sing portrays them brooding, and lost in thought. This Story Cost of
Conscious balances out the otherwise “happy ending” of a Success/Good narrative, ensuring the gravitas of their predicament remains prevalent in the Audience’s consideration.