Monday 30 November 2020

Movie Review: Black Snake Moan (2006)

A southern Gothic tale, Black Snake Moan mixes sex addiction, depression and the blues into a vigorous brew of unconventional salvation.

In rural Tennessee, Rae (Christina Ricci) is a sex addict barely keeping her life together with the help of boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), who suffers from anxiety. But as soon as he leaves to join the National Guard, she succumbs to all her wild urges for instant sex and drugs.

In the same community, small-scale farmer and former blues guitarist Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is emotionally distraught when his wife of 12 years Rose leaves him after having an affair with his brother. The local preacher R.L. tries in vain to entice Laz back to the church congregation.

After a wild night Rae is assaulted and dumped by the side of the road. Laz stumbles upon her limp body and provides refuge to tend her wounds. Once he realizes he has a sex addict on his hands, he chains Rae to the radiator for her own safety, and to try and extract her demons.

Mixing the literal with the metaphorical but remaining grounded in the reality of poverty, abuse and emotional dead-ends, Black Snake Moan embraces without judging. Writer and director Craig Brewer creates two broken individuals and generates warm sympathy for both. Rae and Lazarus are fragile products of an unforgiving society adept at grinding down spirits and crushing innocence, whether early or late in life.

The film is uncompromising. Foul language is rampant, Rae's sexuality unconstrained, and a couple of violent incidents are stark. Most of the characters have limited social skills to converse in anything other than shouting and seething threats. Into this cauldron Brewer tosses a reversal of slavery image with a Black man chaining a white woman to his radiator, and from the depths of his sense of betrayal, Lazarus self-defines a fiery mission to cure woman of what ails her.

A decadent white woman forced by a Black man to confront her sins and forsake her base urges is a scathing commentary on the state of the union, but Brewer provides pinches of humour and emotional space for both Laz and Rae to pull back from the combustible brink. Laz recoils from the depth of his abyss; Rae pauses to consider her triggers and the sanctuary Laz offers; his guitar and the expressive blues emerge as a possible unifying antidote to stave off the worst of what ails them.

Christina Ricci burns the screen as a young woman desperately trying to bury her past by excavating her present, and Samuel L. Jackson conveys pain, disappointment and no shortage of imagination with an economy of words and actions.

The black snake slithers to where damaged souls reside, and bites with the enticing venom of arduous redemption.

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