Winter’s bone seems to have been shot in only two locations, the Dolly’s cabin and an imposing old barn with an incongruously new door. Although Ree Dolly spends her time begging rides and knocking on one door after another, we can’t describe any home other than Ree’s as the camera only apologetically intrudes into the homes of those she visits, and seems anxious to move on. In this strange backwoods world of Missouri there is a code which is never explained to us, a code which ignores meth cooking while condemning the snitch, which permits one hand to distribute alms while the other throws sucker punches, which permits murder while demanding human respect. Ree knows this code inside and out, while we are left in the dark, and it is our awareness of this knowledge which lends to this film its strangely stationary mood.
Ree is not trying to overcome obstacles, but is trying to endure a trial which never for a moment deludes her. Her choice to save her family is not softened by ignorance, by the delusion of youthful optimism, and we grasp this only afterwards when the camera pauses with ruthless intensity upon the end of her resolution. It is the acceptance of her duty within her community and within its code, an acceptance which perhaps she never expressed before this crisis, which elevates Ree to sublime heights—there is nothing so wonderful as an ordinary girl buckling down under extraordinary circumstances and shining throughout her trial. The thought of leaving home, even for such good cause as supporting the family through her work is nothing other than a temptation, and indeed, Ree has no chance to run, but only the opportunity to endure. She must accept her cross or perish; there is no running. She endures, and so perhaps we shouldn’t speak of the camera following Ree at all, but instead of Ree standing still while the camera catches the world washing about her.
Now, how does Ree’s understanding of the code lead to the strangely stationary mood? I don’t much care for those who neglect the external aspects of a film to weave psychological explanations, propounding that entire movies are dream sequences or outward expressions of desires. That said, we see something forbidding and permanent when we see the structure of the barn with the automatic door and we know that this is the crucible Ree herself clearly saw and accepted when we first met her. She may have known where her quest would lead all along, but wisely choose not to go there alone and without warrant, instead enmeshing herself entirely within the community around her, building upon the support of her uncle Teardrop and those who love her, inevitably drawing nearer to the barn. That may be saying nothing more than that she approaches the barn by acceptance of her duty.
Someone once said ‘Some people are born great, some achieve greatness, while some have greatness thrust upon them’. Perhaps the last is the quiet way of Ree Dolly.