tagReviews & EssaysMovie Review: Black Snake Moan

Movie Review: Black Snake Moan


I'm rarely surprised by movies anymore. Most of the ones I count as good are still only mediocre and mildly entertaining. Rarely these days does a film really move me, take me out of myself, and leave me wanting to rewind it and watch it again. (And just as an aside: I miss hitting rewind on VCR tapes. Yet another thing to hate about DVDs, aside from all the scratches and skipping...)

Black Snake Moan was released in June 2007, and stars Samuel L. Jackson (what is it with this man and movies with "snake" in the title??) and Christina Ricci. Brilliant casting. Oh, except for Justin Timberlake. I'm sorry, this boy can't act. He just can't. I'd say he should stick with singing... but I've heard him sing. Male model maybe? Just, please, for the love of God, please stop casting him in movies, okay?

Justin aside (and I'm thankful he doesn't take up too much celluloid in this one) I haven't had an experience like Blake Snake Moan in ages. The music alone is a ride worth taking! This whole movie plays like the downest, dirtiest, grittiest, saddest, most redemptive blues track you ever heard. Blues music inevitably makes me want to take my clothes off, and I'm fully willing to admit I was naked by the end of this film. (Another advantage to Netflix... watching movies at home in bed with the hubby!) This movie is HOT. Musically, visually, in every way humanly possible, it burns going down and it hurts so good!

There's a genre of fiction called "magical realism," which I happen to love because of its mythic, surreal qualities. Characters are strange, often with archetypal overtones and very un-human like, bigger-than-life motivations. I've written some of these types of stories, and have had reviewers not "get it" and say, "No human being would act this way!" Well, no. Duh. These are walking symbols, archetypes, delicious fairy-tale figures plopped right down into a modern setting. That's what Black Snake Moan made me think of, and I want to give a shout out (yeah, like he's reading, right?) to writer/director Brewer to say, "I get it, man! I get it!"

Not only did I get it, baby. I dug it.

I dug it deep!

Now, I hate giving synopses, mostly because I get annoyed when people try to tell me what a movie's about and end up giving it all away. I'd rather be surprised. But with this movie... I can't give it away. I could tell you every single detail from beginning to end, and you'd still have to plop yourself in front of the screen for two hours to really experience this fearless, sultry, poignant fable.

(And yes, there is a moral to this story. I got that, too, and so will you.)

So I can tell you that Ricci plays Rae (I want to know what that's short for?) a trashy, wounded, sex-fiend whose anxiety-ridden boyfriend (the sadly untalented Justin Timberlake) is about to take a tour of Iraq with the National Guard. When Mr. Panic Attack--Justin (what's his name in the film again? Truly, he's just so altogether forgettable) leaves his coughing, feverish girlfriend prostrate and distraught, crying for him to come back and comforting herself with a little self-pleasure trip right there on the front lawn, we realize this girl's got some... issues. Yeah, that's the understatement of the century.

Her boyfriend's not gone a day before little Rae's being nailed over a sink by a very big, very black drug dealer by the name of Tehronne. She follows that with a foray to some sort of local fair with a bunch of girlfriends where she buys enough drugs to get "very fucked up," plays a touch football game during which she's bumping uglies again with some unknown guy, and ends up getting a ride home with her boyfriend's best friend, who beats her and leaves her for dead at the side of the road on the doorstep of none other than Lazurus, her savior du jour, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

Lazarus is nursing his own set of wounds. A farmer and former blues musician whose wife has just left him for his own little brother, he panics when he finds Rae on his doorstep and you get the feeling he's thinking, "Aw man, I don't need this shit!" Looks like he brings her inside more so no one will see the half-naked white woman down the road a piece from his place and think he "did something "to her than anything else. Rae is still high, feverish, has a serious cough, and is consequently pretty delusional. In the process of nursing her back to health, Lazarus takes the liberty of chaining her to the radiator to keep her from running away during one of her "fever-fits."

Of course, when Rae wakes up, she's all: "I'm woke now. You can unchain me!"

Ha. Would YOU unchain a half-naked Christina Ricci?

Lazarus, who's talked to some people in town about her while she's been recuperating (and who in town doesn't know about her??) and now knows what her problem is and means cure it, says, "I don't think so. You ain't right yet."

Thus begins the "bondage cure" for nymphomania. Soon to be adopted by psychiatrists everywhere in lieu of Prozac. Okay, maybe not. Might be a fun change, though.

Seriously, Lazarus isn't interested in getting into Rae's decidedly cute little white cotton panties. He spurns all her advances, buys her sundresses, and tells her to "watch her mouth." Rae forgets about trying to get away, starts to listen to Lazarus' voice and his guitar, and if your heart doesn't break when the girl sings her version of "This Little Light of Mine," you're... a Republican! This is love and redemption, folks, one of the finest, heartfelt portrayals I've ever watched, and the end--I won't give it away, but it's perfect. Which is rare nowadays.

The truth is, this movie is brilliant, the writing incredible, the actors (Justin aside) completely fearless in their portrayals, and it works. I really works. It shouldn't, given the premise. It's so silly and strange, it shouldn't work at all. And yet that's the reason it does work, because it's so big, so surreal, so original and out of the ordinary.

I've heard people complaining about the "stereotypes" in this movie--the older black man and the young white girl.

But there is a point when "stereotype" becomes "archetype" and Black Snake Moan crosses clearly and very explicitly into that territory. The criticism I've heard about the film, namely that it's misogynistic and exploitive, has clearly missed the point. I had no problem with suspending my disbelief or understanding the characters' motivations. This movie truly plays like the best of the blues, and every lick of the guitar brings Rae and Lazarus toward redemption. I was along for the ride with them every step of the way.




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