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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Black Snake Moan

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Jacqueline Monahan

Black Snake Moan

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Black Snake Moan

Legendary bluesman Son House advises that there is only one kind of blues, that which “consists between male and female.” Black Snake Moan sets out to prove this premise and vehemently.

Rae (Christina Ricci) is a continually half-naked hoochie who is powerless to control her “itch”. This is just the first in a long line of assumptions about women that the film promotes. Rae has been sexually abused as a child, so we are pre-programmed to endlessly understand her reckless choices.

Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) is the only man who is good for Rae, a type of salve for her rawness, but he’s leaving for National Guard duty. Rae is left with no man, and so must have all men, including the resident drug dealer and various members of the local high school football team. A bad encounter with Ronnie’s best friend earns Rae a beating and a dumping like so much (white) trash along a deserted country road. Ronnie’s been gone about two hours.

Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is a former bluesman, now bitter from the betrayal of his wife and younger brother who’ve run off together. He’s one disillusioned vegetable farmer, until he finds a battered and unconscious Rae. He saves her life physically but will not rest until he saves her wicked soul. She is, after all, a female and you know how they are.

Rae wakes up to a chain belt and padlock that effectively bolts her to a radiator. Since she is portrayed as an insatiable “bitch in heat”, it’s only fair to chain her to another heat source, no? The waist chain is a symbolic chastity belt that fails miserably when Lazarus’s young neighbor comes a callin’ one day when Rae is alone.

Southerners are portrayed as undereducated self-destructives, living wanton, foolish lives of sexual caprice and substance abuse. Only Angela, the local pharmacist (S. Epatha Merkerson) and the Reverend R. L. (John Cothran) rise above the sub-standard gene pool and dispense any type of common sense. Lazarus is fixated on the salvation of Rae and cannot really see Angela (who only has eyes for him). The good reverend helps Lazarus rethink the chain.

Poor Rae is nothing more than a semen silo and punching bag. We must view her scantily clad body for such a prolonged period of time, that the sensible get annoyed, while the hyenas, inevitable in any large gathering, twitter away with dim to non-existent understanding of the real tragedy they are witnessing.

Rae’s chain is another type of affront, the “for your own good” superior tripe that should have any thinking person outraged, no matter how noble Lazarus’s purpose. It’s provocative, yet it’s one of the few things in the film that has nothing to do with sex (although Rae does wrap it around her legs in a pseudo masturbatory fashion, which seems to bring her comfort). Uh, yeah.

Must redemption come at the expense of female dignity? And does Rae have to be a party to her own humiliation (as if that makes it somehow justifiable)? Aside from a random male ass flash early on, no one other than Rae is so unnecessarily under-dressed for so long.


Christina Ricci is daring in this role, confident enough to display a range of emotions in embarrassing and unflattering circumstances. She plays Rae as a gaping wound that is slow to heal.

Samuel L. Jackson is a revelation as the one man who doesn’t want to shag Rae. Although he starts out as a well-intentioned caveman, his innate wisdom kicks in and he becomes Rae’s authentic caretaker. He stops hating every woman, she stops wanting every man. If there is redemption through dysfunction, then all can be salvaged instead of savaged.

Black Snake Moan is the song Lazarus sings to Rae which illustrates the depth of his blues. It is his primal scream that seems to bring a type of salvation and healing to them both.

Justin Timberlake, as the dishonorably discharged National Guardsman, pulls off difficult scenes of fright and anguish. No one can help themselves in this film, but finally realize that they can help each other.

Craig Brewer’s (Hustle and Flow) images travel to the edge of exploitation before injecting some obligatory morality into the story, and then, only reluctantly. Slow motion shots, it seems, are the only way to slow down the “fast” Rae character. His film is misogynistic at times, objectifying Rae to an embarrassing extreme.

The soundtrack, featuring R.L. Burnside, Son House, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, is hyper-bluesy and throbbing. It revs up like a monster truck rally and punctuates the action, usually Rae writhing around as if having an orgasm via epileptic convulsion. Ain’t that how all them womenfolk is?

Black Snake Moan is startling and edgy, but falls back on dangerous female stereotypes (woman as insatiable slut and temptress) too easily. The acting is virtuoso, but the message is suspect. My hope is that Rae is not viewed as a type of Everywoman. We don’t need any more cavemen on that (blues) bandwagon.