Dispatches | July 07, 2010

Saw Georgeanne Nixon and Governor Nixon at the movies yesterday. Georgeanne is a serious and involved supporter of the arts. Didn’t get a chance to talk to them after the show but wonder what they thought of Winter’s Bone, which might be interpreted as a “negative” portrait of drug dealers in the Missouri Ozarks.

At The Missouri Review, we published Daniel Woodrell’s story “Woe to Live On” in 1983, before it was expanded into a novel and then turned into the movie Ride with the Devil by Ang Lee.  Daniel has been to visit and read for us, as well.

The movie is being hailed as the best of the year by many critics and is fascinating both in how melodramatic and sentimental it is.  Protect the Children in a Heartless World!  Fight Against All-Encroaching Evil!  Daddy’s Dead, What Will We Do?!  It’s a flick that could almost have been made in 1916 on a rooftop in New York.

That’s not to put it down.  On the contrary, Winter’s Bone is evidence of how primitive and get-back a good movie can be.  How with good detail and actors, with thoughtful choice and handling of a heroine (the movie makes her slightly purer than the book) and scenic veracity, one can tell a wonderfully compelling story.
Thematically, both the book and the movie rise above simple melodrama with one particularly interesting idea: the self-ordering of social groups—even a group of outsiders.  The druggies in Winter’s Bone finally resolve their own conflict because they really are the only ones for which it makes any difference.

It’s a dark story but oddly uplifting.  I recommend it.

Speer Morgan is the editor of The Missouri Review. His most recent novel, The Freshour Cylinders (1998), was awarded an American Book Award.