Experience tells me that a film so wrong on so many levels must either be a masterpiece, (think DW Griffith's Broken Blossom or John Waters' Female Troubles) or more predictably, an abomination on celluloid on par with Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Driving Miss Daisy. It's probably bad form to comment on a film that I haven't even seen, but the reviews of Black Snake Moan (with very few exceptions) all seem to overlook one simple question: Why does a woman who has been gang-raped, and presumably abused all her life, require, of all things, "redemption"? For the same reason, it turns out, an HIV positive man has to confess his "shame" in a crowded courtroom for succumbing to a one-night stand (Philadelphia), and a promiscuous woman has to succumb to HIV and a sexless, guilt-induced marriage to her mentally challenged suitor (Forrest Gump). In other words, how else will cineplex audiences engage emotionally with characters outside the sexual mainstream, however blameless, unless their transgressions are tearfully atoned for through death and abject obeisance to middle-class values? Or as Black Snake Moan helpfully suggests, forced confinement and cough syrup.
The story as far as I can make out involves Lazarus, (resurrected here as Samuel L. Jackson) a bitter bluesman seeking salvation by forcing a gang-rape rape victim (Rae) to be his involuntary houseguest until valuable lessons about abstinence are learned through a tough love regimen of blues music, steak dinners, and yes, cough syrup. You see, it just so happens that Rae (played by Christina Ricci) has miraculously appeared on Lazarus's driveway like some Bratz doll version of road kill, thus setting the plot in motion for a complex, densely atmospheric meditation on what it would be like to have a freshly raped chick chained to your refrigerator (or whatever). As you may have guessed, Rae is a feral, white trash nympho in desperate need of a firm, godly hand to offer her "salvation." The filmmaker was obviously inspired by the gospels of Maxim Magazine: "Hate the sinner -- love her tits, though."
Director Craig Brewer offers up his "edgy" Blue Velvet(een) vision of rural Tennessee as viewed through the wrap-around shades of Hollywood's latest slick white hipster purveyor of "ghetto" cinema. That it's a vision worthy of a black velvet painting hung over a motel water bed shouldn't distract one from the artistic merits of Christina Ricci's exposed midriff. We can only hope that the upcoming "Director's Cut" will include the edited out scene of Samuel L. Jackson in white grease paint serenading his weeping floozy with a karaoke machine rigged up from a beer cooler and jumper cables a la David Lynch in one of his more more surreal cinematic asides. But more likely, it was pitched to the suits and bean counters in some overly air-conditioned, cubist monstrosity LA office as Driving Miss Daisy as interpreted by the makers of 9 and a 1/2 Weeks.
Following a long line of tortuously obvious symbolism, lessons in tough love are presented here as a bitter elixir remedy that when repeatedly rammed down the throat, will eventually yield an aversion to fellatio. This is 'Holywood', after all, and BSM is just the latest in a long line of "sin flicks," where tired biblical conventions like "redemption" and "salvation" are an excuse to punish "Women Who Love (cock) Too Much."
Maybe I'm missing something here, but it seems to me that Rae's rapists would be more deserving candidates for a "tough love" whooping at the hands of a sexual "redeemer". Curiously, Justin Timberlake's character is also exempt from Lazarus' divine bitch slappings, despite his voluntary enlistment in that supreme institution of unbridled male aggression that is similarly presided over by a deluded "Decider" on a mission from God. Or maybe the cuckolded cracker is going off to I-Raq to build schoolhouses for little blind leper children. Not that we really need that added dollop of bathos to the already stirred-up pot of sympathy we are meant to feel for Rae's fiancé Ronnie, reluctantly leaving his hotted-up bride-to-be to battle her inner-demons alone -- armed with only cut-off jeans and a shortie, shrunken T-Shirt. Or maybe the dude just doesn't want to be hitched (Get it? Hitched!) to the town pump, and willing to sacrifice life and limb to delay his dreaded fate as man-meat for some redneck Bridezilla.
In any case, Ronnie's early departure to boot camp clears the way for Rae to involuntarily enlist in her own private 'Booty Camp,' where the recently-risen-from-a-bad-hangover Lazarus will put her through the paces of aversion therapy. (Make no mistake about it: The US would be celebrating victory in I-Raq by now if it weren't for home front 'ho's like Rae, serial-cheating on poor bullet stoppers like Ronnie, who, in all statistical probability will be bringing home more than just his dick in a box.) Never mind that his "service" ultimately perpetuates a system that ensures people like them remain vulnerable to the predations of poverty and ignorance. Of course, we wouldn't want to confuse the film's obviously "deeper" meaning (Christina Ricci sure looks hawt tied to some dude's dog house (or whatever) in her itty bitty T-Shirt) by raising the specter of politics, or God Forbid, feminism. This is after all, "art" with a capital A and its "visionary" premise of subverted "race" roles (black guy wields the instruments of his oppression to "liberate" a young woman from her carnal urges) should be enough to ease the the viewer's discomfiture with the odd notion that restraining devices -- those hideous legacies of slavery and Jim Crow -- can be transformed cinematically into steamy boudoir accouterments.
"Irrelevant" politics aside, the message here is that "sluttiness," or what some would simply consider a robust female libido, is a punishable disease, and only "curable" at the hands of a stern patriarch "decider" whose remedy involves steak and cough syrup. Being force fed dripping cuts of freshly slaughtered meat, it turns out, is just the thing for a girl who has performed the 'tube steak boogie' one time too many in her short and wretched life. And cough syrup? Presumably, the recycled metaphor here has something to do with all the 'whooping'.
Chalk it up to fuzzy feminist logic, but it seems to me that a crime victim would be better served by a gavel-wielding judge delivering a guilty verdict to her rapists in a courtroom, rather than a chain-wielding creepy loner dishing out divine justice in a cabin. But I suppose I am overlooking the broader, "artistic" message conveyed to Black Snake Moan's young, white male demographic through a scantily clad slutbot tethered to a beer cooler (or whatever).
We can perhaps attribute the film's questionable take on justice, where the victim is forced to atone for the sins of the rapists, while the perpetrators avoid sentencing in some vengeful, vigilante dude's living room to the fact that the filmmakers considered the dearth of erotic possibilities in Samuel L. Jackson shackling a gang of violent yobs to his radiator while regaling them with his guitar. In all fairness, one only has to consider the tortuously convoluted plot lines required to explain why Mr. Beau-Duelling-Banjos would have in his possession multiple sets of police restraints. And of course, the more burning question would remain: Just who would wear the hot pants in this extended, dysfunctional family unit made up of an elderly vegetable farmer and his motley, mulleted, homegrown chain-gang? It would take the Coen brothers to figure that one out.
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