‘Black Snake Moan’: Dark, steamy...and sweet?

Fri, 03/09/2007 - 11:56am
By: Emily Baldwin

After seeing Paramount’s new film “Black Snake Moan” recently, I walked out of the theater in a bit of a daze attempting to gather my thoughts without much luck initially. That’s what this film will do to you; it will take you on wild ride of emotions and drop you off before you’ve had time to regain your senses.

The film’s title is derived from the Blind Lemon Jefferson song recorded in 1926 for Paramount, and is considered an excellent example of Jefferson’s use of overtly suggestive sexual imagery without becoming salacious. It’s fitting then that this film containing overtly sexual images that definitely border on salacious, without quite crossing the line, would borrow the song’s title.

Rae (Christina Ricci) has a background marred with childhood sexual abuse, drugs, booze and a search for love that leaves her with a bad girl rap and a brutal cough. The only person who can keep her somewhat in line is her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), and he has just left town to fulfill a commitment to the National Guard. Only hours after Ronnie is out of the picture, Rae seeks out a cure for her itch. A wild night of drugs, alcohol and random sexual exploits lands her beaten and unconscious along the side of a dirt road in nothing more than a rebel crop top and a pair of panties.

Samuel L. Jackson stars as Lazarus, a southern bluesman and farmer whose younger wife has just left him for his younger brother. After a long night of drinking, Laz awakes one morning to find Rae passed out in a ditch by his house. His desire to help outweighs his fear of being caught with an unconscious, beaten, white girl, so he carries her into his house to fix her up. Rae’s sickness, however, extends beyond her persistent cough and a three-day fever and comes in the form of savage nymphomania.

Lazarus feels called by a higher power to take on the challenge of freeing Rae of her demons, and begins by chaining her to his radiator to keep her from wandering off while fever-dreaming.

The film is shocking in its story and its imagery, so what’s good and what’s bad about “Black Snake Moan”?

To begin with, it’s a hard film to watch without cringing in many places.

The bizarre story is on the crazy side and can be accredited to the mind of writer/director Craig Brewer, the writer/director of “Hustle & Flow.” It’s hard to know where Brewer’s unusual characters and peculiar stories come from, but it will be interesting to see what else he produces in the future.

The stereotypes Brewer presents in his script of southerners, both black and white, are precisely what many people work daily to combat. As the film progresses, however, Brewer’s characters develop into multi-layered individuals who rise above the cliches, a result I am sure wasn’t unintentional.

Brewer consistently does this throughout the film, showing the other side of the story, both for the characters and their faults, in a way that emotionally connects with his audience. Bad guys (or in this case, girls) are no longer one-dimensional and, while he doesn’t entirely justify certain behaviors, he does empathize with them.

The sleazy sexuality of Rae places her in more than a few compromising situations. Ricci spends about half the film scantily clad and often topless, and her animalistic performance is almost frightening at times. On the flip side, her commitment to her role is outstanding. Ricci has a wildness in her eyes that few Hollywood actresses can sell both on and off screen without looking completely deranged, and she was the perfect choice for this daring role. Ricci’s unique look could make it difficult for her to transform into a character, making audiences forget who they are watching, but Ricci does so flawlessly.

Jackson has never been one to shy away from loud, dominant characters combatting a greater evil, and this film is no exception. This time around he’s fighting off a different kind of snake and does so with his signature brash style.

Timberlake clearly will not be happy until he is a multi-media mogul and he’s been taking some major steps in that direction. His appearance in “Alpha Dog” earned him some initial acting cred, and his turn as a soft-spoken man of duty in “Black Snake Moan” will only open the doors for more roles.

“Black Snake Moan” is definitely not a movie for those who are uncomfortable with overtly sexual films including nudity, films with dark themes or those offended by foul language.

For the handful of you out there who still think this sounds like a movie you want to catch, you will probably be surprised to find out that this torrid film turns out to be a sweet story of self-worth, forgiveness, love and redemption.

Through all its darkness, its shock value and its problems, “Black Snake Moan” does what many films cannot: it makes you have an opinion. Much like Brewer’s characters, “Black Snake Moan” makes you feel something, whether love or hate, but you will definitely not be left indifferent.


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