Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Winter's Bone

A few nights ago my wife and I watched the movie "Winter's Bone".  It follows a teenage girl from the Ozark mountains as she tries to track down what happened to her mysterious, criminal father.  It is a very well-done movie in every aspect, and I imagine that it does a good job of depicting life and culture in that region of the US.  If this is so, however, it exposes a dark side of the type of agrarian culture that folks like Wendell Berry espouse.  Basically the people in the movie are near-perfect agrarians.  They live mainly off the land, especially from timber and hunting resources (in which source they are really perhaps even pre-agrarians, closer to forest hunters and gatherers).  They live in tight-knit communities of extended bloodlines, and share many traditions and values that define them as a people.  Hell, even their chronic methamphetamine use could be compared to constant ingestion of psychoactive drugs by many indigenous groups, and the homemade production of methamphetamine would be a cottage industry designed to provide a source of cash income to compliment their in-kind natural resource use.

All this said, the movie paints a somewhat dark picture of life in this community.  There is constant danger, sadness, want.  This may be in part due to the anti-agrarian bias of the filmmakers, but surely all the defining aspects of agrarian societies have their dark sides as well (close-knit = closeminded, traditional = oppressive, etc.).  This serves as a warning to the big dreamers like myself who would have us all living back in idealized rural utopias.

Nevertheless, after all her trials and difficulties, the movie's heroine is ultimately set on staying put in the community.  Her example insists on the value of the agrarian life.

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