Ree is a responsible surrogate parent as she teaches her siblings basic mathematics and spelling. She shows them even at an early age, because the surroundings demand learning these grown-up skills, how to use a rifle to hunt and protect themselves, but also how to be careful around the weapons. When Ree shows her brother and sister how to skin a squirrel, Sonny asks about the animal’s organs, “Do we eat these parts?” Ree’s answer is, “Not yet,” a minimalist answer that carries great meaning as to how precarious their world is. Ree must also chop wood so that they can stay warm. There is no reliance on the outside world here, so one must rely on others living there. Ree brings her horse to stay with her neighbor, Sonya (Shelley Waggener), who lives a little higher on the poverty spectrum, for food since the horse has not eaten in days. Sonya brings food over to Ree’s house, and lets Ree use her wood splitter. However, Ree tells Sonny, “Never ask for what oughta be offered.” Among these people, that rule maintains the recipient's pride, since they are not seen as beggars, and places responsibility on the residents to help others; if they have to be asked for what they should offer, they would incur embarrassment.
To make matters much worse, Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) comes by saying Jessup put up the house and the land as collateral for his bail, and if he doesn’t show up for his court date coming up soon, they will have to give up their home. Despite the fact that the law has not found Jessup, we see Ree’s resolve when she convincingly says to the sheriff that she will find her father. When Sonya comes to her house and asks Ree if she’s sure she doesn’t know where her father is, Ree gives her a “how dare you ask that” look as if insulted to think she didn’t tell her the truth. Sonya says then Ree didn’t have anything to tell the sheriff. Ree says she wouldn’t tell the cop anything even if she did know. Sonya’s response is, “Honey, we know that.” This exchange shows the code of silence among the people living there that see the rest of the world as outsiders who only enter their lives to do harm.
Ree goes to the home of Little Arthur (Kevin Breznahan) who has another cutesy name which does not fit his character. He is Ree’s cousin (Ree keeps wanting to now why people who are her “kin” aren’t helping her) who used to cook meth with her father. Here, as everywhere else, the property is run down, with partially wrecked vehicles in the yard along with trash cans, old tires, and other refuse, showing us how the lives of these people are in shambles. In his house, a gun in the corner, always ready to be used, Little Arthur says he doesn’t know where Jessup is. Once again, a woman helps Ree. Little Arthur’s wife, Megan (Casey McClaren) tells Ree to ask Thump Milton (a more appropriately tough name) about her father. Ree confesses that he is one man she does not want to talk to. He is Megan’s grandfather, and she is afraid of him. Fear rules in this place.
Ree goes to to see Thump Milton (Ronnie Hall), but is told by one of the women living on his compound, Merab (Dale Dickey), that he will not see her, despite Ree’s argument that she isn’t looking for “trouble,” that is, she is not going after who might been involved in her dad’s disappearance, and that she and Thump’s people share some “blood.” But Merab says that she should leave because Thump doesn’t want any witnesses. Ree starts to realize that her father is dead, and those involved in his death don’t want any loose ends that could lead to who killed Jessup. While waiting for this information, Ree sees a small statue of a boy and a girl riding down a slide. The inclusion of this object makes one again think about the the loss of youthful innocence. Childhood has a short span in these circumstances, and all that’s left is an artistic resemblance of it.
Teardrop comes by again because he feels the need to find his brother’s body. On their drive, the sheriff stops them, but Teardrop knows that there is no reason for being pulled over. He also has a great deal of animosity toward the sheriff because of how he probably assisted in the death of Jessup. Teardrop refuses to exit the vehicle and he makes sure that Sheriff Baskin can see in his truck’s side view mirror that Teardrop has a rifle in his hand. The sheriff backs off and lets them go. This scene stresses that although the ways of Teardrop and others in this place may be threatening, the law and others from outside their way of life can be just as destructive. Teardrop tells Ree that her father loved them very much, which ironically, in this uncivilized pace, made him weak, not wanting to go away from them to serve a long jail term, and this weakness made him susceptible to danger.
Some women from Thump’s place, including Merab, now join the list of other women who help Ree. They take her to where Jessup’s body is. They put a sack over Ree’s head so she can’t reveal where her father lies. That way, Ree can’t ever tell the police, which would lead to an investigation. They go on a boat to where Jessup rests in some shallow water. Merab says Ree must cut off her father’s hands to prove that he is dead (Merab says one hand might imply that Jessup is alive and tried to prove he was dead by cutting off one hand, which shows how violent is the logic in these parts). Ree breaks down and although she can lift up her dad’s hands, she can’t do the cutting. Merab uses a chainsaw, adding to the gruesomeness of the scene, to cut off the hands. Ree brings them to the sheriff, saying someone flung them on her porch. The sheriff doesn’t want Ree to spread it around that he backed down from Teardrop, saying he was just trying not to have a shootout that might harm Ree since she was there. Ree tells him that’s not the way she saw it, not giving him the satisfaction of his lie. She shows her contempt for the man who helped bring about her father’s death by telling him she wouldn’t say anything about him because she didn’t talk about the sheriff, “ever.”
Teardrop pays a visit to Ree’s home, and brings baby chicks for Sonny and Ashlee. This act may seem to show a gentle side of the man, but he probably is being practical, providing a source for future food, either by way of chicken dinners or eggs. He picks at Jessup’s banjo, and remembers fondly how much better his brother could play. Bree offers to give him the instrument, but he says that she should hold it for him. He then says that he knows who killed Jessup. So, his leaving the banjo may mean that he will seek revenge for his brother, which would probably get him killed. Ashlee picks up the banjo and starts strumming it. This action may seem like a sweet tribute to her father, but it also could imply that she is on the same road to disaster as her parent.
Sonny asks Ree if she is going into the Army and leaving them. Ree’s poetic response is, “I’d be lost without the weight of you two on my back.” The life here may be exacting, but the love of children makes bearing the burden of family responsibility worthwhile.
The next film is The Bride on the River Kwai.