Of Human Bondage: Black Snake Moan Review

black_snake_moan_ver2In case you didnt know, Black Snake Moan is about the heart-broken, semi-alcoholic Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) and his unusual relationship with the heart-breaking, boozed up, barely dressed Rae (Christina Ricci). Watching this movie is like watching Girls Gone Wild: It feels so wrong… but I’m still definitely turned on.

Cinematically speaking, Craig Brewer’s vision of the dirty south was very well done. Also, the performances are fucking fantastic. Even Justin Timberlake’s portrayal of convulsive and overly anxious Ronnie felt realistic… But I think that’s because he’s only in the movie for about 30 minutes or so, which means that we don’t really see the full breadth of his chracter anyway. Ricci and Jackson definitely put themselves out on the line to even consider these kinds of roles. But, personally, I believe they surrendered themselves to the absurdity and eccentricity (both strengths and weaknesses) of the script and executed the characters with balls-to-the-wall honesty. And, like Hustle and Flow, the music in Black Snake Moan is sincere, edgy, and downright brilliant. Moreover, I believed this was one of the significant elements that carried the story. .

As for the movie… Well, first off, it’s been a while since I’ve seen an overall black cast where only one of them (the greasy Tyrone) is actually cast as a gangster or pimp (he’s both) and is a mainstream drama. Many of the interventions that Rae experiences are withLazarus’s friend, a humble minister that comforts Lazurus during his nasty separation with his wife. So, there are plenty of positive (and honest) black figures, and I commend Brewer for this (After all, the producer was none other than John Singleton). But, like most films, while they succeed in one cultural issue, they fail in another. Obviously, seeing a half-naked, petite blonde chained in her undies are sure to fill some theater seats. But, c’mon.



-One word that is often described for Rae’s character (Besides being a “slut”) is that she is sick. Sick? She makes bad decisions and it’s described as a sickness. Please, get the girl some Peptol Bismo! “Fever” is another word that’s thrown around as well. I don’t know if this euphemistic reference to Rae’s behavior is intended or if Brewer, himself, doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But, believe me, taking a dangerous amount of pills, being beaten to death, and left unconscious for about 8-12 hours in the unforgiving Southern heat may leave you suffering an illness that even cough syrup can’t cure (And yet, in this movie, it does).
-Her history with men is a bit sketchy and I feel like Brewer never really gives us enough time to consider her actions and connect that to her past. Flashbacks and dream sequences allude to childhood molestation; but, even those revealing moments are blurry. And even during those instances, the childhood flashbacks are eroticized (as usual). Actually, almost everything about Rae is eroticized, which further blurs the link between her sexual foracity and her emotional/mental welfare. Because of this, it’s difficult to take Rae’s afflictions seriously.
(SPOILER)-So, Ronnie returns from the army to hear that Rae, yet again, is actin’ a fool with every man she lays eyes upon, including his friend (although, in Rae’s defense, Ronnie’s so-called “friend” did mercilessly kick the crap out of her and left her unconscious in the middle of nowhere… so who’s the bad guy again?). In a rage, he wields a gun at Lazarus and Rae (he suspects Lazarus is her latest lover). Lazarus convinces Ronnie to put the gun away and persuades the preacher to intervene on the couple. He asks Ronnie how he feels about Rae’s behavior; but, we never see him specifically talk to Rae about what causes her to act out. He only asks, “So, how do you feel about what Ronnie has said?” You know, I understand that what she did hurt Ronnie’s feelings; but, Rae obviously has emotional problems that are apparently ignored throughout the movie. In fact, we never see her talk about her childhood or the experiences she endured. Of course, the solution for Rae is to get married young! Oh, don’t you love a cinematic catharsis?

Okay, okay, maybe I’m being harsh. In the world Brewer has created-and from what I can interpret-one can’t expect these people to know how to deal with someone like Rae other than to get her married as soon as possible. So, in some ways, for the good preacher to bust out with alternative therapy or for job placement is… 0r maybe it isn’t. I’m not going to assume less of Brewer’s characters, and Brewer shouldn’t either. So, the argument in question is whether or not a film (or any piece of art) should speak of truths grounded in human nature (Ex. Rae gets married and no one talks about her feelings) or what the truth ought to be (Rae takes the bitter path through her own sordid issues with or without Ronnie).

Well, can’t say I didn’t have a film that left me bitter and uncomfortable. So, please see Black Snake Moan, if not for the message then at least to see Ricci in bondage… both literal and human.

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