Sunday, June 24, 2007

Black Snake Moan

If you know anything at all about this movie, you probably know that Christina Ricci spends much of it in her panties with a 40 pound chain locked around her waist.

You would think that image alone would have been enough to fill the seats for this Sundance favorite when it was released in theatres back in March. Sadly, like most independent films it suffered from spotty distribution and even worse promotion, and died a quiet death after a mediocre opening weekend. That’s ok, though. That’s what DVDs are for.

Written and directed by Craig Brewer (‘Hustle & Flow’), ‘Black Snake Moan’ takes place in his beloved Tennessee and centres around two very broken people. Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is an aging bluesman who has lost both his wife and his passion for living, although not necessarily in that order. He indulges himself by blaming his failed marriage for all of his problems, but his ex and his friend the preacher see things a little differently.

Rae (Ricci) is dismissed by nearly everyone as the town slut, although the reasons for her uncontrolled behavior are gradually revealed. When her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) leaves to join the army, she wastes no time finding someone else to have sex with. After several progressively more dangerous and drunken encounters, she winds up in the wrong car with the wrong guy, and is found bleeding and unconscious in a ditch by Lazarus the next morning.

The relationship that develops between these two is not at all what you would expect, and certainly not the one implied by that image of the girl chained to the radiator. Still, the chain isn’t just there for the poster. It becomes an important symbol and a psychological tool, and serves a similar role for Rae that the blues does for Lazarus.

‘Black Snake Moan’ is drenched in the blues. The music doesn’t just play in the background to set the mood - it infuses and informs every frame of film, from the themes and issues explored by the characters to the cadence of their speech. The blues give voice to their passions and fears, and ultimately heals them all.

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