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- Category: Judy Thorburn
- Published on 07 November 2008
- Written by Administrator
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"BLACK SNAKE MOAN" - THE BLUES IN BLACK AND WHITE
Writer/director Craig Brewer who made a striking feature film debut with his Academy Award nominated “Hustle and Flow” a few years ago, is back with a follow up film that gets under the skin in more ways than one. Just as he did with his first film, Brewer creates a hot and sweaty mood and gets down and dirty in his film that is punctuated by music (in Hustle & Flow it was rap, this time it’s the “blues) as a major element. The setting once again is the South, the birthplace of the blues, the music genre that reflects deep emotional pain rooted in the relationship between a man and a woman. That bleak feeling permeates both the film’s atmosphere and some characters that are in desperate need of healing and redemption.
Samuel L. Jackson as Lazarus and Christina Ricci as Rae are two strangers that fate brings together to form an unusual relationship which evolves into a sensitive, heartfelt father daughter type bond that will forever change their lives.
Both are shattered and hurt people. Lazarus is a blues singing, God fearing black vegetable farmer, whose cheating wife, Rose, has left him for another man, his brother, no less. On the other side of town is Rae, a sexy little blonde vixen, whose one true love, boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), is heading off to boot camp. Lazarus reacts to his predicament of contempt and betrayal by gathering up all his wife’s belongings, throwing them out and then destroying her rose bushes. No sooner is Ronnie out the door, than Rae feels that chronic “itch” that needs to be scratched to soothe her inner beast, borne from a history of sexual abuse and abandonment. Rae can’t help being a nymphomaniac. It’s the only way she can relate to men and survive. After going to a bar, and getting wasted, Rae winds up in bed with the town drug dealer, before being picked up by Ronnie’s best friend (Michael Raymond-James) in a truck, who then beats her up and leaves her for dead on the side of a road, a stone’s throw from Lazarus’s driveway.
That’s where Lazarus finds her, half naked, and unconscious, wearing only white panties and a cut off tee shirt. Lazarus takes her in to nurse her back to health only to discover, soon after, that she has a reputation of being the town slut and would sleep with any Tom, Dick or Harry (emphasis on ‘Dick’) to satisfy her voracious appetite for sex. Lazarus feels that God had seen it fit to put Rae in his path, and so, unorthodox as it seems, he comes up with idea of chaining her to the radiator as the only way he can cure Rae of her wicked ways. After, all it’s for her own good. At the same time, the bible-carrying stranger with issues of his own can use this as a means to vent some of his own revenge towards women.
I was uncomfortable seeing the diminutive Ricci, giving her all as an example of white trash, parading around in almost nothing, and chained up like an uncontrollable feral animal. Whether the character of Lazarus is well meaning or not, the poster for the film depicting a black man standing over a chained white chick with him in control surely feeds into not only racist attitudes but masochistic bondage fantasies for those with sicko inclinations. Obviously, this is an exploitive marketing ploy to draw audiences by its very edgy nature. I can see how the curiosity evoked from this poster’s image and tagline “everything is hotter down south” would segue into a desire to know how it plays out on screen and would pay off in ticket sales. That come-on alone has a double meaning.
Thankfully, once you get passed that lurid image, Black Snake Moan does have a noble message that is far from demeaning to race and gender. Damaged people, although opposite in appearance can come together and learn how to trust again. It also helps a great deal when they can share the music of the “blues” which has the power to redeem and cleanse the soul. Halleluiah! By the way, Black Snake Moan is the name of the blues song Lazarus sings that evokes the depth of his pain, and strikes a similar note in Rae’s soul.
Taking on Rae was a bold and risky move for Christina Ricci, who has come a long way since starting out as a child actress. Skinnier than ever, almost unrecognizable as Charlize Theron’s chunky gay lover in Monster, Ricci is just as effective and even more riveting with this portrayal of a troubled, vulnerable backwoods tramp. You can’t help but care about her and what’s she’s been through. Jackson gives a fearsome performance showing alternate sides to Lazarus, a broken complicated man, who in his resurrection, lives up to his name. John Cothran, Jr. as Lazarus’s long time friend and preacher and S. Epatha Merkerson as the compassionate pharmacist sweet on Lazarus, inject excellent support as helpful sideline characters. And although Justin Timberlake appears in a small supporting role, he does a bang up job as Rae’s anxiety ridden boyfriend.
I only hope that audiences pick up on the real message of redemption and forego the exploitive components. If the repugnant idea of keeping a woman in chains strikes a positive chord, I would change the last word of the title from moan to groan.