Thursday, May 6, 2010

Archive: "Black Snake Moan" (2007)

What a strange, strange movie this is. And what a remarkable one it is, too. I haven't witnessed something quite like this in a movie ever before. It's something of a rare movie experience that temporarily lets you escape into another dimension. The movie is meant to look and sound like a flimsy B-movie exploitation flick. It pushes a lot of uncomfortable buttons and touches on a lot of uneasy surfaces. It's a film that has a lot to say about race, sex, religion, and the ultimate loneliness of people. Yes, it's dirty, wrong, and weird, and therefore, it's not a movie for everybody. There will be those who won't like it and won't exactly catch the meaning of everything that unfolds; then again, there will probably be those who do. I happen to be one of the latter.

Rae (Christina Ricci) is one messed up girl. The movie opens with a steamy sex scene between her and her boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake). Shortly after this scene, we see him trying to start his life over by leaving to join the army. As his truck pulls away, Rae chases after him for as far as she can. Eventually, though, she collapses into the grass and writhes in pain on the ground. She's squirming in this agony because she's already craving sex. And so, she dives back into her normal ways of promiscuity and drugs. After one night of instability and being used and abused at a party, she is dropped on the side of a long stretch of rural road. The next morning she is discovered by a man named Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson).

Lazarus isn't in much better shape himself. He's an ex-blues guitarist that only has the vegetables growing in his yard to rely on because his wife just left him for another man. And so, he, too, is alone, bitter, and broken. He finds Rae and decides to take the battered girl inside his house to nurse her back to health. After asking around town, though, Lazarus soon finds out that her scrapes and bruises are the least of her problems. Lazarus takes action, and when Rae finally becomes conscious, she wakes up with an extra surprise; not only does she find herself in a strange black man's house, but she also finds a giant chain wrapped around her stomach.

Lazarus plans to rid Rae of her wickedness. This proves to be an uneasy task, however, when straightaway Rae tries to seduce Lazarus, telling him she'll do anything he wants. Her bad habits are obviously pretty hard to break. Time passes, though, and Lazarus and Rae build a relationship. It's one that really works, though, and it's absolutely nothing sexual. In bringing Rae into his home, Lazarus actually finds a way to resurrect his own ways and not just hers. These two dysfunctional and neglected people come together and through their interaction, they transform and grow. It's not ever sappy, though, because the way in which everything happens between them is simply outrageous to say the least. I mean, c'mon, it all started with Lazarus having to yank Rae back into the house by her chain as she clung desperately to the porch.

There are other pretty oblivious people involved here in the crazy Deep South, like a friendly woman pharmacist who helps Lazarus, and also Lazarus' friend who is a reverend. We also meet Rae's mother through a gut-wrenching confrontation between her and Rae that's anything but friendly. Ronnie is also discharged from the army and returns for the second half of the film. His character proves to be surprisingly significant to Rae's progression, and the movie concludes on a most sincere note with an emotionally real scene between the two of them that does the rest of the film justice. I found "Black Snake Moan" to be witty and engaging. Occasional bursts of dark, twisted humor are followed by moments that are deeply sad and moving. I felt for these characters; I cared about what happened to them, and I was fascinated by watching them.

There are some wonderful images in this movie, too. The opening sequence was bitingly funny and effective with a tiny Rae strutting down the road with a massive tractor behind her taking up the rest of the shot honking for her to move. She merely flashes him the finger, and then comes the title across the screen. Only better is a scene where Lazarus is back to playing the blues at a small concert in a bar. It's visually intoxicating as we watch Rae out on the dance floor swaying rhythmically to Lazarus' smooth beats. Interestingly enough, it's in this scene that Rae has the most clothes on than she does in the rest of the movie, and yet she is the sexiest here. This scene is mesmerizing because here the film manages to focuses on Rae and Lazarus together even while they're apart.

Christina Ricci bares it all in this movie, figuratively and literally. Her performance is daring and brave; it's one of the most provocative performances of her career. Samuel L. Jackson takes equally as many chances with his role, and nails it right on the head. Here we have the classic Sam Jackson feel with even more classic phrases found here than in "Snakes on a Plane." Both of these actors took great risks to play these characters in order to make them as memorable as they are; these performances required energy, courage, and intensity, which these actors supply in abundance. Samuel L. Jackson even plays guitar and sings for real throughout the movie. The most powerful moment is when Lazarus sits down to play his song titled "Black Snake Moan" with Rae listening intently at his knee.

"Black Snake Moan" pulls off what it does without ever being preachy; it has so much to say and never plainly states it, but we understand it nonetheless. As the plot unfolds, more and more can be found within the film's subtext. It delivers a simply blunt message on life: We're all screwed up, we all need fixing, but we are only human.

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