Imagine being 17 years old and having to be the leader of your family. Now imagine that your father who has been in and out of jail for cooking crystal meth has jumped bail on his most recent release from prison and put your house up as collateral on his bail! We find out all of this in the first ten minutes of “Winter’s Bone” truly one of the most intense and powerful films released this past summer.
Young Ree Dolly is our 17-year-old heroine of this story. She lives with her two younger siblings and mother in a remote part of the Ozark mountain range of Missouri. Her mother spends her days in complete silence giving the appearance she is unable to speak, though it appears that a mixture of depression and constant drug usage has caused her to appear so disconnected from the world around her. Her aforementioned father is never around, whether he is in jail or not. When he isn’t in jail he spends his time cooking meth for various distant relatives who also live in the same mountain range.
It is these relatives that Ree decides to journey around the mountain visiting and asking for information of the whereabouts of her father, as she is given a week by the Sheriff to find her father, or else prove he is dead and unable to come to trial. If she fails to do so, the house will be taken by the county, thus leaving Ree and her family homeless.
As Ree began her journey to visit her drug dealing and cocaine snorting relatives I couldn’t help but see a parallel between her and the character of Noah in Genesis 6. You see in Genesis 6 God observed that the people of the world had become so evil that He was sorry He ever made mankind. The Lord then decided that He would destroy all humans and start over, with the exception of Noah, who found favor in the eyes of Lord (v. 8). Think about that for a minute. Noah was the only man on the entire planet of earth at that point in time that found favor in the eyes of the Lord! Pretty amazing! On a smaller scale though, our character of Ree is the only person on the mountain other than her two younger siblings who doesn’t do drugs of any kind. She like Noah, represents the one pure person among a whole group of people who are doing evil!
This as one could easily predict does not bode well for her. As she makes her rounds of the various family members they do not treat her very kindly and are very unhappy that she is poking around trying to find out information about her father. At each stop, we as the audience begin to get the uneasy feeling that Ree’s father is probably in fact dead, and it is probably one of his own distant cousins who did him in!
Finally the relatives decide Ree has been poking around enough and they kidnap her and take her into custody with plans to execute her! That however, is when a powerful plot twist takes place: one of Ree’s distant relatives who you would never have expected intervenes, calling her execution off stating that ‘I will take responsibility for her’
This part of the film is not unlike the parable of the good Samaritan that Jesus told in Luke 10:30-37. In this story that I am sure most are familiar with, Jesus tells us the story of a Jewish man who was attached by thieves who beat him severely and left him for dead on the road. The first two men to come upon the beaten Jewish man were a Priest and then a Levite, and both don’t stop to help the suffering man. Both of these men would have been Jewish and thus one would think, much more inclined to help a fellow Jew in distress. However, the third person to come upon the man is a Samaritan who feels deep compassion for the injured man (V. 33) and thus takes action! He pours medicine on the wounds, which most commentators believe was probably a mixture of wine and oil (certainly not cheap products!), bandages the Jew up, places him on his own donkey and takes him to an inn. There the Samaritan spends the night nursing the Jewish man back to health and the next day leaves the innkeeper with money to continue to help the man rest and recover.
It is important to note that back in Jesus’ time Jews despised Samaritans. You see Judea was broken up into two sections. Jerusalem was the capital of the Southern half and Samaria was the capital city of the Northern half. The Jews despised the Samaritans because they had at one point in time intermarried with Gentiles, which the Jews saw as against the Laws of God. Therefore they didn’t socialize with Samaritans and shunned them if they ever ran into one!
That is why Jesus’ parable is so amazing! He made the hero of the story a person with whom his audience would have hated! Thus is the case with the hero who immerges as the good Samaritan in “Winter’s Bone!” This character gets Ree out of the dangerous situation, and brings her back home, even helping her nurse the wounds she has incurred from the angry mob like relatives who were ready to kill her!
Throughout this movie, Ree demonstrates an incredible ability to stand her ground in the midst of adversity. She refuses to fall into the drug snorting, meth cooking, lifestyle of everyone around her, and it fine with standing alone when it comes to trials. She takes care of a her younger siblings, making sure they stay in school and even teaches them life skills like cooking and how to hunt wild animals for food.
Yet when she does need someone to help spare her life, a character with whom we as the audience have disliked tremendously throughout the movie, steps up to the plate and saves her life. Much like the Jewish people hearing Jesus tell them that a Samaritan helped save the life of a fellow Jewish man, our initial reaction as movie watchers can easily be surprise and perhaps a bit angry, but God has a way of using people with whom we sometimes least expect to accomplish His work! Paul writes in Romans 11:33-34 “Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are his riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! For who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be his counselor?” (NLT). Simply put, God’s ways are not our ways, and the people He chooses to use are not always the people we would choose to accomplish a task.
As the movie closes, Ree is forced to undertake a task in order to save her family that is gruesome and quite dark! I certainly will not spoil the ending, as I suggest all of you readers out there see this movie. It is one of the 10 nominations for this years Best Picture award at the Oscars, and it deserves to be spoken of among the other movies on that list