Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Black Snake Moan

Filmed in and around Memphis, Tennessee, the title derives from a Blind Lemon Jefferson blues song and the plot borrows from George Eliot's 1861 novel 'Silas Marner'.

It must have been a marketing person's nightmare. Black Snake Moan is packed with violence, nudity and bad language and yet it is a thoughtful and sensitive film.

The story revolves around two main characters: Lazarus (Samuel L Jackson), a farmer and former blues guitarist, and Rae (Christina Ricci), an abused trailer-trash woman with a 'thing' for black men.

Despite all attempts at reconciliation, Lazarus's wife has just left him for his best friend. Rae gets beaten and left for dead after one of her regular drink/drugs/sex binges.

Lazarus discovers her battered, half-naked frame outside his house and decides that she needs to be healed, both physically and spiritually. And this is where things get really strange.

Rae is chained to a radiator like a dog on a leash to prevent her from escaping, and Lazarus announces his intentions. Rae is (unsurprisingly) less than compliant, but as the film progresses we see her gradually responding to Lazarus' attempts to re-educate her.

Lazarus' pastor (John Cothran Jr) is one of the most convincing and sympathetic portrayals I have ever seen of a Christian man struggling to explain spiritual truths to a deeply-damaged person.

His explanation of heaven to Rae is a standout...

RAE: Can I ask you a question? People always say, you gotta get good with Jesus, if you want not to go to hell. That you say sorry for all you done and Jesus would let you go on to heaven.

R.L.: You could put it that way.

RAE: But that's so f***in' stupid. (she catches herself) I'm sorry. Didn't mean to curse.

R.L.: What's on your mind?

RAE: You can't hurt people... and then just say, I'm sorry, and then everything just gets washed away. Why would heaven want people like that. People who... do what they want and then... switch.

R.L.: I'm gonna tell you somethin', and it's just gonna be between you and me. I think folks carry on about heaven too much. Like it's some all-you-can-eat buffet up in the clouds. And folks just gonna do as they're told so they can eat what they want behind some pearly gates. I can go to Shoney's for that.

Rae grins. R.L. leans closer.

R.L.: There's sin in my heart. There's evil in this world. But when I got no one... I talk to God. I ask for strength. I ask for forgiveness. Not for peace at the end of my days when there's no more life to live and no more good to do, but today. Right now.

Wonderful stuff.

And then there's the soundtrack. Big, beautiful blues music from The Black Keys, John Doe, Scott Bomar and Samuel L Jackson. It made me want to go out and buy a magenta coloured Gibson ES-335 and a Peavey valve amplifer!

Nina Ricci plays Rae with rawness and humour, managing to portray outrageous sassiness and vulnerability in a believable and entertaining way.

Samuel L Jackson gets a lot of (justified) stick for playing caricature parts. But he immerses himself into the troubled but intensely moral Lazarus character.

There are scenes of intense physical closeness between Lazarus and Rae and despite the obvious sexual tension, Lazarus respects the moral barriers and by doing so becomes a believable father-figure to Rae.

OK, that's way beyond my blog word-count limit (sorry Brook!). It's a superb film. You can buy it for less than a fiver. Go on, treat yourself.


AaB said...

Can I borrow this ;-?

Thank you for the write-up.

brett jordan said...

If you've got a blu-ray player :-)

AaB said...