Winter’s Bone is the second feature-length work by director Debra Granik, who also wrote the screenplay. The film is set in the Orzak mountains, a desperately poor part of the American South, and focuses on seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly, a young girl keeping her family together despite an absent father and a mentally-ill mother. When the local Sheriff informs Ree that her father has put up their house as collateral for bail and that they will lose it unless he turns up to court in a week’s time, she sets off on a mission to discover what has happened to him.
The film garnered huge critical acclaim on release and was nominated for four 2011 Academy Awards, including Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. Jennifer Lawrence, the young actress who plays Ree, was nominated in the Best Actress or equivalent category of almost every English-language film awards and has been marked out as a face to watch out for in the future.
Winter’s Bone was submitted to the BBFC for classification in May 2010 and came without a category request. In the US, the film was passed R for ‘some drug material, language and violent content’.
When classifying Winter’s Bone, examiners noted strong language and drug use as the principal classification issues. The film also contains violence and threat, a gory image and scene in which squirrels are butchered.
There are eight uses of ‘f**k’ in the film and one use of ‘motherf***er’ and these uses of strong language made a 15 classification necessary. BBFC Guidelines allow for ‘frequent use of strong language’ at 15, but at 12/12A state that the ‘use of strong language must be infrequent’.
Drug-taking is a major social concern and this is reflected in the way that drug use in film is treated by BBFC examiners. BBFC Guidelines on drug use at 15 state that 'any misuse of drugs must be infrequent and should not be glamorised or give instructional detail'.
The drug use in Winter’s Bone is strong but infrequent, and is devoid of any glamorous effect.
Ree's father is suspected of having been killed for his crystal meth dealing, and it is also widely suggested within the community that he might have been burned while trying to mix the drug, apparently a common occurrence. Phrases such as "cooking crank" are used in a matter-of-fact tone as it's revealed that many of the local population are involved in the production of crystal meth.
Ree's uncle is occasionally shown snorting white powder from a bag and at one point he offers it to Ree. However, she turns him down, sarcastically noting that she hasn't got the "taste for it” yet. The audience presumes this drug is crystal meth, but it is not referred to directly as such. The character of Teardrop, the uncle, is portrayed as unsavoury and aggressive and his actions are unlikely to appear glamorous to the audience. The fact that Ree, the heroine, is dismissive of the drug is important and we are aware of the destruction wrought upon her family by the prevalence of crystal meth within the community. At the beginning of the film, Ree is offered a joint, but we do not see her smoking it and it is not discussed further. Examiners therefore felt that the drug-taking in the film fell well within the parameters of the 15 category – it is infrequent, aversive and gives no instructional detail.
Winter’s Bone also contains some violence and threat, including a scene in which Ree is dragged to a garage and beaten up by her female neighbours. The violence itself occurs off-screen, but it is clear from her injuries that she has taken a severe beating – she has a bruised and bloody face and pulls out a loose tooth. Examiners felt that the lack of detail in the scene would have allowed this violence to pass at the 12/12A category. The same applies to a scene towards the end of the film, where Ree’s neighbours take her to the lake where her father’s body has been dumped. In order to prove to the police that he’s dead, Ree needs evidence and the women encourage her to take the man’s hand. Ree holds the hand as another woman cuts through his arm with a chainsaw. We very briefly see the severed hand as she puts it in the boat, but there is no close-up or gory detail. Later, when Ree hands her grisly ‘evidence’ to the Sheriff, he just looks in a plastic bag and grimaces.
Winter’s Bone was passed 15 with the BBFCinsight ‘Contains strong language and drug use’ and the expanded version explaining the issues in detail.
The film was passed at the same category for its DVD release and was selected for National Schools Film Week in 2011.