05 January 2011

Post 284: Dayna Ingram (guest blogger)

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell.  ISBN: 9780316057554.

I love when books get adapted into movies, because usually I have never heard of the book being adapted, and I am excited to read it more than I am excited to see the movie. I've discovered wonderful stories this way (White Oleander; Girl, Interrupted), and so I was super excited to read Winter's Bone after I saw a trailer for the independent film. The book is very atmospheric, and sort of noir-ish in its plot, but the characterization of Ree Dolly is what really pulled me through it. She is a literary heroine in the style of Clarice Starling: all vulnerability hidden under a necessarily tough exterior (a little girl trying to survive in a man's world), and her stoicism is quite touching. The complexity of her character is only deepened by her sexual relationship with her best friend Gail.

While this relationship is never made explicit, it is completely there, and very important in how Ree deals with her lot in life. The non-exploitative, nicely subtle way Woodrell handles this relationship is very welcome, allowing the reader to infer its significance and use their own imagination to read between the lines. It's tragic but it's not sensational or overtly sentimental, and of course Ree bares the burden of her desire, like she does all her other unfulfilled desires, with stoic grace. So this relationship surprised me, and made me really excited to see how the movie handled this aspect of the novel. And, of course, the movie completely dropped the entire thing.

Okay, I understand that the film was playing more with the atmosphere of the setting and doing some tonal things and wasn't really focused on character-building as much as the novel was. (In fact, the movie was under whelming and entirely confusing; if I hadn't read the novel beforehand, I don't think I would have understood the plot at all.) They set up the friendship between Ree and Gail but it was never as deep as it was in the novel (even disregarding the sexual nature of the relationship, it was still a very intimate and important friendship that the film ignored). Maybe the relationship is only important to me because, as a gay lady, I yearn for more complex representations of sexual identity and especially women just in general in my books and movies. But I don't think I am alone in seeing this. It's something that I would expect certain readers to go ahead and ignore if it bucked up against their narrow worldviews or fragile identities, but for the screenwriters to ignore it completely? It's almost as outrageous as the Fried Green Tomatoes adaptation, which excised the much more explicit lesbian identity of Idgie Threadgoode entirely from the story.

Listen, I know movies are shorter and therefore must cut certain aspects of stories for purposes of length, but that is not what I see happening here when important aspects of a character are completely shut down. I see screenwriters or producers or studio execs getting scared that they'll offend some throwback sensibility of their oh-so naïve audience by presenting them with “alternative lifestyles,” so rather than develop a complex, whole, individual character, they whittle the character down to their most acceptable/relatable traits (woman-precocious-just-needs-a-good-man; woman-young-headstrong-just-needs-a-good-man).

I'd like to think, in 2011, we've progressed beyond this simplification. I'd like to think, if I want to see lesbians or non-heterosexual ladies on my screen, I don't have to go out and specifically rent a Lesbian Movie (I've seen them all, anyway). I'd like to know what Woodrell thinks about this. I'd like to think I am not the only one who is ranting about this.

Dayna's review can be found on Goodreads.

Dayna Ingram is a writer and student living in the Bay Area. She received her BA in Creative Writing from Antioch College in 2008, and is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. She works at Half Price Books, where she buys more books than she can reasonably hope to read in a lifetime.  She is also the author of Sleep Like This.

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