Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Father's Bones (Warning: *Spoilers*!)

Winter’s Bone is a story full of men, but no fathers. There are uncles and brothers, grandfathers and husbands, there are soldiers and boyfriends, sons and policemen. But there are no fathers.

There was a father – just the one – but he is missing – he is only ever an absence from the very beginning – a floating name without a body – and he is wanted for crimes he has not accounted for – or not to the state and the law of the state anyway. Indeed, where power is concerned, the state is far down the pecking order: its judicial system can barely touch this tribal law’s blood-enforced perimeter fences, and its army is a distant, elite entity out of the reach of these wild, savage humans.

The bone forest where this tribe live is a place where traditional patriarchy has been overthrown; The Father killed, his reign finished. Into his absence descends an unstable, unpredictable and dangerous bid for power, a fight between the brothers and the sonless grandfathers, and the boyfriends and the fatherless sons. But whatever crown the winner will take, it can never be the title of The Father – made clear when Teardrop, the uncle of the main protagonist, Ree, refuses to take up The Dead Father’s banjo when she offers it to him. The Father’s rule has been too completely undermined for it to ever again be a viable position of power.

If Winter’s Bone were a less complex tale, then the final shot of Ree on the steps, the children in her care on either side – her quest to save her home finally successful – would suggest her as an alternative Tribal Head – a queen in place of the fallen king, his own daughter no less, and so a natural successor? But her triumph, though an immeasurably huge task to achieve, was ultimately small in the context of her wider wintery world. For in fact the only power Ree ever sought was to secure a home for her family. She is not interested in the power struggle everyone around her is in engaged in, she has no desire to reign over any other part of the relentlessly hostile world she has been forced to live in. That world she has gladly left to the wilder ones to fight over its bones.

The world of Winter's Bone makes that of The Road look like a walk in the park.

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