“Just like a bird without a feather – I am lost without your love.”
In spite of advice received to the contrary, I saw Craig Brewer’s latest film, which is no doubt as controversial as his first. In both Hustle and Flow and Black Snake Moan, my inner feminist cringed at the sight of stereotypical gender roles, images of violence against women, and the portrayal of women as sexual objects. However, in spite of my knee jerk reaction to their marketing scheme, Black Snake Moan actually digs deeper than a strange sadomasochistic fantasy of a chained and prostrate Ricci in her underwear and a domineering Jackson towering over her.
Black Snake Moan is the story of a girl named Rae (Christina Ricci), her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) and Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson). These three characters intersect at an interesting point in each of their lives. Ronnie has enlisted and gone to boot camp, leaving a sad and reluctant Rae behind. Lazarus has gone through a divorce, after discovering that his wife cheated on him with his brother! And we find out that Rae is a bit of a nymphomaniac, who empowers herself through her insatiable sexual desire. She is a small-framed girl with an attitude that eventually gets her into trouble with Ronnie’s best friend, Gill, who hits Rae repeatedly and leaves her, unconscious, in the middle of a dirt road. The next morning, Lazarus sees Rae and carries her back to his house to care for her. He soon learns of her reputation in town and decides to help her. When Rae finally comes to, she finds herself chained to his radiator. Then Lazarus makes two poignant statements – first, he asks her why she lets men treat her with such disrespect. Second, he intends to keep her chained until further notice because he “aims to cure [her] of [her] wickedness.”
We gradually find out that Rae was horribly abused as a child. It seems that Rae, in an attempt to control the sexual pain she suffered as child, reclaims her power and vulnerability with a heightened sense of sexuality. Through this venue, she regains power over her body and over her sexuality by seeking physical satisfaction of what once was so painful and out of her control. Therefore, instead of a movie about the strange sexual happenings between a black man and a bound white woman, or of a movie filled with violent images against women or of how older men patronize young women, I propose to think of this film as a depiction of how people cope with abuse and pain, and ways in which the love of others can become their saving grace. It is a story of the ways in which people respond to hurt – the hurt of an abusive father figure, the hurt of a failed and childless marriage. Lazarus ultimately adopts a daughter to nurture and support, and Rae ultimately feels security in the small golden chain around her waist – a symbol of Lazarus’ silver chain and the comfort she received from a supportive, loving and respectful father figure. By the end of the movie, we get the sense that Rae is on the road to recovery – with her little gold chain, she feels support and care, not the weight and pain of years of abuse to her body.
Brewer constructs a complex story of how people deal with dysfunction, disorder, trauma and depression. His answer is love, respect and a supportive community for all who have been hurt and victimized by the mere fact that we live in a world that can be very unjust to the vulnerable and innocent. He recaptures healthy family members for those that only received pain and torment, where nurturing and love should have been.