A Morality Tale Is Told in Black Snake Moan
- Tuesday, July 03, 2007
DVD Release Date: June 12, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: March 2, 2007
Rating: R (for profanity, nudity, graphic sexuality, violence, drug use, and ethnic slurs)
Run Time: 115 min.
Director: Craig Brewer
Actors: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, Adriane Lenox, John Cothran, Jr., S. Epatha Merkerson
Down South, things are different. And if writer/director Craig Brewer’s latest film is any indication, they’re also bizarre—and more than a little sordid.
The film opens with Rae (Christina Ricci) and her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) locked in passion, rocking their messy doublewide, deep in the heart of Tennessee. After experiencing an anxiety attack, Ronnie heads off to boot camp, leaving a devastated Rae behind. Not to worry, though. Rae soon dries her tears and heads into town, where she gets drunk and stoned, then looks for a new man. Instead, she’s raped, beaten and left for dead by the side of the road.
Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is a down-on-his-luck farmer whose wife (Adriane Lenox) has just left him for his brother. Lazarus, or “Laz,” is an interesting character. He drinks. He plays the blues. And he has a real way with words, especially the “f” one. Lazarus can also quote Scripture—although he hasn’t been to church since his wife left, much to his preacher-friend’s dismay. Laz is also very, very angry.
When he finds Rae on the road near his house, Laz brings her inside and nurses her back to health. But when he learns from friends that she’s the town floozy, he decides she needs “curin’.” So he chains her to his radiator. She’s still wearing her white bikini underwear and cutoff t-shirt, by the way, which just happens to be emblazoned with the Rebel flag. When Rae wakes up from her stupor, she’s naturally furious and tries to escape. She even tries to seduce Laz—several times. All her efforts are in vain, however. She’s staying until she realizes that her life is worth something.
We soon learn that Rae is using sex as a way to cope with painful abuse memories as well as intense rejection from her mother, who works in the local grocery store. But that doesn’t stop people from talking about Laz, after they see him in town buying women’s clothing. When Ronnie shows up, having been discharged from the Army, things get even more complicated.
Brewer hit the Hollywood radar with his 2005 hit, Hustle and Flow, which portrayed a sympathetic pimp. Here, he creates a parallel with a sympathetic nymphomaniac. Like that film, this Southern Gothic tale is clearly meant to be interpreted both literally and symbolically. Both Laz and Rae need curing—and the bondage they live is as real as it is figurative. The good news is that both find redemption and healing, even if it’s all more than a little unorthodox.
Having spent most of his childhood in Memphis, Brewer knows the South, and it shows. Playing off of stereotypes that are as real as his actor’s accents, Brewer shows us what it’s like in those small towns. This is not Hollywood hype; it’s realism—even if his characters are all larger than life.
Another thing Brewer does well is religion. We actually meet a preacher (John Cothran, Jr.) who isn’t evil incarnate. He loves the Lord, he loves his flock more than he loves himself, and he gives sound advice—without seeming like a cardboard cutout. Not only that, but Laz is infused with faith as well. Like so many other Southerners, his is far more gritty and laced with doubt, but it manages to be credible nonetheless. They’re all broken people, searching for meaning—which they eventually find by shedding their evil ways and embracing community that defies racial lines.
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