Trust, Obligation and Winter’s Bone

The other night I saw the movie Winter’s Bone, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and richly deserves any of the future honors it’s sure to collect.  

The movie takes place in the mountains of the Missouri Ozarks. Ree Dolly is the 17-year-old girl whose father has skipped bail, leaving her to support her two younger siblings and an Alzheimer-addled mother.

If you believe in character development as the mark of a good movie, this one lays down the marker early. As they go to bed hungry, while neighbors down the road skin a deer, her brother asks why they can’t ask the neighbors for some. Ree tells him coldly: “You don’t ask for what oughta be given.” In a sense, the movie consists of challenging that statement with the obligations of kinship and society.

Only in retrospect was it clear that the plot had been foreshadowed in the movie theater itself. It was one of those downtown New York art theaters that fill up on a hot weekend afternoon.

We settled in two seats from the end, and a seat away from a single man, who had another empty seat on his other side. As the theater filled up, a woman sat near us, and then asked, down the row, “Would you all mind everybody moving down one seat?” 

I looked at her quizzically. “I’d like to be able to sit with my parents and sister,” she explained, “and if you all move down, we can take the first four seats.” We grumped a bit but moved down. The man now beside us didn’t move.

“Would you mind moving too sir? Please?”  

The young man said, “Yes, I would mind, thanks.” I settled into my seat to watch what happened next.

“You see, I’d like to be able to sit with my family,” the woman explained. “Would you mind, please?” Silence. “Would you mind moving over, sir?” she said, more loudly.

“I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, that should be enough. Yes, I would mind. How many times must I say it?” he said.

The older man, sitting on the end of the row in front of us turned around and said, “You must be from New York, I suppose, not moving and all.” Silence from the man.

“Sir,” the woman, “I’m trying to ask very nicely…” “And you’re still getting the same answer from me,” the man interrupted. “You might want to stop talking about it now.” 

Which she did. Though I must say the exchange stayed on my mind through the movie.

And as I said, the movie was about the clash of “Don’t ask for what oughta be given,” vs. the obligations we hold to others. And it made me think.

Here’s where I ended up.

If you never ask, you have no reason to complain when you get nothing. And sometimes you have a right to ask, even on fairly general principles.

On the other hand, there are some limits to asking. As far as I’m concerned, the man would have been within his rights to say, “Look lady, I came here early to get the one seat I wanted to sit in. You came here late, looking to get four seats, and to get them by begging. 

“And when you didn’t get them by begging, you proceed to extortion by guilt-tripping. Sometimes I move over. Today I don’t. At the last you should stop it.   At best, you owe me an apology.”

What do you think? What do we owe each other? What right do we have to ask? Where are the boundaries? And where are the lines that are meant to be crossed?

Put another way, who can you trust? And how and when do you have the right to ask for trust?