Black Snake Moan

Black Snake Moan

Has anyone else seen this movie? Traveling on business, I wound up watching Showtime late at night in a Portland, Ore. hotel room and came across this film starring Christina Ricci and Samuel S. Jackson. The beginning had me wondering if I ought to just turn it off—it’s the tale of a sexually abused “pretty young thang” in the deep South whose boyfriend leaves for the army. She has been dependent on him for her sexual release (she is a fierce sex addict who breaks into hives if she doesn’t “get it”). When he leaves, she also loses his love and stability, and she goes on a hard to watch drinking-“getting it”-getting raped-(well, it would be rape if she were to object at all)-and-finally-beat-up binge. I winced the whole way through these opening scenes.

A local farmer and black man played by Sammy Jackson finds her at the edge of his driveway, after she’s been left half naked and for dead on his back road in the boonies. Jackson’s got his own demons he’s dealing with: mostly a wife who has left him after many years for his spiffed up younger brother. He has shunned help from local church members and friends after nearly killing his brother in a barroom brawl. And then he finds … this girl.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but what follows is a series of strange events that have you wondering if Jackson has found God or done gone batty. Suffice it to say, the story winds up as a tale of redemption for both characters. What I loved most about it was the way sexuality was put front and center with an initially muddy, but then sensible and loving demarcation between what healthy sexuality and unhealthy sexuality look like, what moral and immoral look like and, most importantly, feel like.

In the most unusual scene along these lines, Jackson’s character, Lazarus, takes Ricci’s character to a local blues bar where he leads a jam session on guitar. The mostly black crowd accepts this overly thin, beat up looking white girl into their midst, and proceed to “dirty dance” with her: men and women, women and women, all kinds of combinations (not quite going out on a limb with men and men, though). This is a very sexy scene in which, actually, no one has sex or even seems interested in actually having sex when all is said and done.

There were other things I loved. The way Christianity is in this film without adherence to the rigid constructions of religion, but as a faith which—when practiced gently—is essentially a faith of forgiveness and non-judgment. The way Jackson’s character boldly steps out into town after a while with his young charge ... and the way things actually turn out good, in the end, and not bad. I mean, in a film with blacks and whites and rape and sexuality, you keep expecting somebody to get killed, or at least wind up in a whole heap of trouble. And I, for one—while I appreciate some cinematic tension—really just want to see a happy ending. I have had my fill, at 40, of gratuitous fear and violence in movies. And I think happy endings are realistic, and happen quite a lot in real life.

This movie reminded me of the 1991 film starring Laura Dern and her mother, Diane Ladd, called "Rambling Rose." Rambling Rose was also set in the South, where a grounded kind of spirituality (Dern’s adopted family) meets young, out-of-control sexuality with some turbulence, but in the end, with Love, common sense, healing and salvation. I picked up the term "Creative Energy of the Universe," denoting God, from this film (adapted from the book by Calder Willingham).

The media around Black Snake Moan reminds me of the out-of-context way people responded to “Boxing Helena” (1993, directed by Jennifer Lynch) without grokking the deeper meaning of the film. The move poster for Black Snake Moan was completely at odds with the movie’s actual meaning and point, as were criticisms from feminist camps about its depiction of violence and sexuality. There are some films, like Boxing Helena, and many of Oliver Stone’s films that show violence or even exaggerated violence or fantasy, in order to illustrate a larger social comment about these issues. The content gets skewered (just because it's there) and the comment gets lost (because no one is listening).

Finally, it is also a treat to hear Samuel Jackson play the blues, which he does often in this film (and learned to do so for this film), although I’m not sure “Black Snake Moan” is my favorite song of all time, and certainly not my favorite song--or movie--title.

So, Your Mystical Mama says: Thumbs up for Black Snake Moan … Parental Cautions: Lot of sexuality, and disturbing sexuality, at the beginning of this film and some violence. No one actually dies, as far as I can now recall—and many are healed.