A Bone to Pick With Family: A Review of "Winter's Bone"

Elijah DavidsonFamily. You don't get to choose it, and like it or not, it is always part of your life.

Winter's Bone is about a family—an extended, dysfunctional, drug addicted, secretive, impoverished, violent family.

The story concerns a 17-year old girl who is faced with either finding her bail-jumping father or losing her home. Her search takes her over the Arkansas hills of her home, through burned-out meth, and across all-but-frozen ponds. Her search also puts her into contact with her relatives—or "kin-folk" might be more appropriate, considering their thin blood ties and un-relational behavior.

The girl's family is as doped out as her wayward father. They are all meth fiends, and are terrified of anyone asking questions about their dealings. The local sheriff knows he has no chance of locating the girl's father, so he puts the pressure on her to find him. She is in constant danger as she searches.

I was harrowed by Winter's Bone. Hailing from a rural area myself, in the dirt roads and burned-out trailers I recognized the land of my youth. I knew growing up whose property I should never enter unless I were willing to risk my life. I located abandoned meth labs as I hiked the hills behind my house. I had classmates who would have reacted as abrasively to prodding questions about their family's business. My family was not involved in such things, but we were close in proximity to those who were.

As I watched, I silently affirmed the familiar phrase, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." It is, to some extent, true for us all.

I was also struck with the burden of family. Those we care about are a weight. Better, they are a source of gravitational pull. In the worst situations, like the one presented in the film, a person's family drags her down and holds her back. Individuals and their potential are swallowed up like celestial bodies into a black hole.

At their best, however, like my family situation, that gravity becomes the slingshot force that makes flight possible. We run through life, the wild winds rush across our wings, and because our family holds us, we press back against the wind, and we fly. Family can be a grounding force, an anchor, a steadying influence in a world that often moves like mad.

By the grace of God, my family is the latter and not the former. And it is surely God's grace. For, as Winter's Bone shows, we don't choose our family, and we can't escape it, try as we might. Or try as we might not.

2/25/2011 5:00:00 AM
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    About Elijah Davidson
    Elijah Davidson is the Co-Director of Reel Spirituality at Fuller Seminary's Brehm Center for theology, arts and culture. Follow his reflections via Twitter, or at the Brehm Center blog and the Reel Spirituality website.