It is the moan, the wail, the cry of humanity awaiting their hope. Black Snake Moan is set in The South, but the context defies the compass. Writer, director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) creates a tableau of human pain and loss which mirrors personal struggle. Using his individual experiences, Memphis background, and love of the blues, Brewer’s application of the music, including an interview with blues legend Son House, strikes a chord deep within the moviegoer. [The title song was originally created by a blind man who wrote music about things that could hurt him like pincher bugs and snakes.] Rae, powerfully portrayed by Christina Ricci, is a young woman whose past sexual abuse has created insatiable lust. But as the film progresses each person in the audience is drawn to see their own prison house of the soul.
The first half hour opens a deep wound. The rest of the movie is its healing. Samuel L. Jackson plays Lazarus; fighting his own demons, he and Rae face the darkness together. As he says to her in a moment of profundity, “We’ll always have hope together.” Lazarus, left in the wake of his adulterous wife leaving town with his younger brother, finds Rae beaten by the side of the road near his home. Confounded by her presence and the leftover hallucinations of drug use, Lazarus nurses Rae as best he can. But Rae’s rantings scare the man so violently one night that he takes his Bible with him outside, placing it on the ground between himself and Rae’s presence in the house. The text to which The Scripture falls open compels Lazarus to bring stability to Rae’s life…against her will…against “freedom”…against convention. We discover there are chains of bondage and other links that lead to emancipation.
There is a strong Christian presence in the movie, driven by Lazarus’ friend R.L. the local preacher. “Lazarus” as Jackson’s character name and the singing of the hymn “There is a Balm in Gilead” are example of markers along the way. An anti-pro-abortion stance is taken not once but twice. Lazarus’ deep sadness of losing his wife is compounded by his loss of a child. As he tells it, “You know how a woman gets that ‘glow’? Well, she done cut it out.” And we discover Rae’s mother wishes she had done the same thing to Rae. Domestic violence is an obvious target as the viewer revisits Rae’s flashbacks of the lighter, the footsteps at the door, and the blurry male figure coming toward her. The believer is reminded of Jesus’ comment as it is visualized on screen, “It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Until we can see people as Jesus saw us, we will never see people; we may never see Jesus.
Rated R for strong sexual content (scenes of sexual intercourse), nudity, abuse, drug use, and profanity.
I paced back and forth on my deck for half an hour after watching this film; one of the most emotionally moving movie experiences I have had.