There’s no doubt about it, some movies just make me flat out uncomfortable. When I saw the poster for Craig Brewer’s (Hustle & Flow) drama Black Snake Moan, with a scantily clad Christina Ricci being held in chains by Samuel L. Jackson, I had little desire to see the picture. The tagline, “Everything is hotter down south,” made me think of some sort of trashy exploitation flick with better actors than usual. Instead, Black Snake Moan turned out to be a flawed character study about abuse, redemption, and the power of the blues.
Christina Ricci, who rarely seems to play it safe on the screen, stars as Rae, a southern girl in tight shorts and an even tighter wife beater. Scarred by the sexual abuse of one of her mother’s former boyfriends, Rae has an insatiable sex drive. Left to her own devices after her Army man boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) is sent off to Iraq, she satisfies her needs with any male available. Ricci plays the part of a young, nubile nymphomaniac very convincingly. She exudes heat with her bottled blonde hair, big eyes, white Confederate flag-adorned cutoff top, and white panties. From the first few minutes of Black Snake Moan the viewer is soundly convinced that Rae is a fierce and jaded girl, with no faith in her fellow man.
Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson), a deeply religious man with strongly-held convictions, is the polar opposite of Rae. Under normal circumstances there is no reason in the world why these two people’s paths should cross. However, when Rae is savagely beaten by a male companion and left for dead on the side of the road, it is Lazarus who discovers her lifeless body. Horrified by her condition and buoyed by his beliefs, Lazarus decides to nurse her back to health. As soon as Rae wakes up and tries to seduce him, Lazarus makes the decision to cure her of her wickedness. In a scene that is an eerie role reversal of the slavery era, African-American Lazarus chains Rae to a radiator in an effort to control her animalistic sexual drive. For me, it was a bit unsettling watching a half-naked girl chained to a radiator as a man spits out biblical scripture. Alas, I don’t think Craig Brewer’s goal as a filmmaker is to make his viewers comfortable. And if he can get a message in there and give the story a semi-pornographic edge, that’s all the better.