A Bible-fearing black man—named Lazarus, no less—chains the impossibly thin Christina Ricci’s character to a radiator, and for the rest of the film, she roams around almost completely naked fighting off “fits” of nymphomania—when she’s not tearing into men like a she-devil.
Sound like a meaningful film, or a cheap excuse to watch a little S&M with a moral (not all black men who chain women to radiators are bad!)?
After reading Feministing’s comments last week, I’m inclined to believe the latter. But I’ve watched in horror as respectable publication after respectable publication has given the movie a decent review.
First, here’s Feministing:
Ricci told MTV her character is “a girl who suffers physical flashbacks to a childhood rape. Some women and young girls freak out, panic, and need to cut themselves. [My character] needs to cause herself the same kind of pain when she has panic attacks by having anonymous sex.”
Sounds like being chained up in only her underwear and then preached to is exactly the kind of healing process this character needs.
The creepiest thing about the movie, or at least its marketing, is that it’s not only about selling Ricci’s body. It’s about selling the idea of sex with a girl who’s been abused and who’s clearly got a lot of problems. There’s even an interactive feature (if you click on “experience” in the upper left corner — click here for a screenshot) that allows you to drag two pills across the screen and then watch a video of Ricci collapsing. Now she’s yours for the violating!
(By the way, the little line of pills in front of Ricci’s mini mini-skirt also look strangely like a female cum shot.)
And here are the “uplifting human drama” reviews.
Lazarus comes to realize that she has the “sickness.” She’s writhing, burning with fever: In her delirium, she dashes out of the cabin, ready to do herself harm. So he chains her to his radiator to rid her of the demons that control her.
That’s the gimmick of “Black Snake Moan,” a gimmick that leads us, like a trail of manna bread crumbs, to the movie’s soul. “Black Snake Moan” is ultimately about damaged people helping one another to become their best selves…. Its characters are stereotypes at the beginning, but our focus sharpens as we watch them: They sneak out of the roles we’ve assigned to them and become people instead.
But human they are, and that point is driven home in the film’s final scenes, which bring the volume level down and unfold with surprising tenderness and emotion. If “Black Snake Moan” is uneven, that’s because Brewer has set himself to a higher degree of difficulty than most emerging filmmakers, telling stories rarely seen on screen, with equally rare characters and settings. Craig Brewer is definitely up to something, and it’s gratifying to watch him explore new cinematic territory with such conviction and assurance.
Well, thank god the New York Times has stepped up to call bullshit:
Underneath the surface of racial and sexual button pushing, behind the brandished guns and bared breasts, is a heart of pure, buttery cornpone. Like “Hustle & Flow,” “Black Snake Moan” joins a dubious stereotype of black manhood to an uplifting, sentimental fable.… Really, though, the character, played…by Samuel L. Jackson, is a tried-and-true Hollywood stock figure: the selfless, spiritually minded African-American who seems to have been put on the earth to help white people work out their self-esteem issues…”Black Snake Moan” is a provocative title, but a more accurate one might be “Chaining Miss Daisy to the Radiator in Her Underwear.”
One morning Lazarus finds [Rae, Ricci’s character], badly beaten and barely clothed, at the side of the road near his house. He takes her home, washes her wounds and fetches her some medicine. (Only later will it occur to him to fetch her something to wear besides the white underpants and chopped-off T-shirt the camera prefers to see her in.) When she tries to jump on him, he grabs his Bible and flees into the yard, leaving the Good Book open to the verse (missing in my copy) about chains and radiators as instruments of righteousness.
The Times review concludes that the movie produces “not a moan or a howl, but a slow, anxious groan.” You just can’t try to tell a morality tale about how sexual abuse is damaging and then invite the viewer to lust after the character. The moral of that story is: Hollywood has been doing that since Chinatown—but at least that movie knew what it was doing.