Black Snake Moan (R)
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I originally put my review under "weird," and the movie definitely fits that description. But I later moved it to "mental health." Anyway, the movie kinda surprised me. I mean, ultimately, it's not what it seems. And what it seems is mostly exploitative. Christina Ricci, as Rae, spends a lot of time scantily clad, and occasionally naked, or at least topless and nearly bottomless (in spite of the fact that my DVD case inexplicably fails to include "nudity" among the list of warnings under the "R" rating). But I'll get to how exactly the movie turned out better than I expected, later.
First, I should start by saying the movie is set in rural Tennessee, and there's a lot of blues music (some of it, including the title song, performed by Samuel L. Jackson, as Lazarus). Laz is a former blues musician, but currently he seems to be eking out a meager existence on his small farm. And at the start of the movie, his wife leaves him, for his younger brother. Laz receives some spiritual comfort from his friend, R.L. (who's a pastor). Meanwhile, Rae is in love with Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), who has to leave for a tour in the National Guard. This is a bigger problem than you might expect, because Rae is a sex addict. So, soon after Ronnie leaves, she hooks up with a local drug dealer named Tehronne. And then goes to a party with some friends, where she does some drugs and alcohol. Later, Ronnie's friend Gill shows up to take her home, but instead ends up beating her and leaving her on the side of the road.
Next morning, Lazarus finds Rae, and takes her back to his house, to nurse her back to health. You know, instead of taking her to a hospital, or something. (But then, as he later tells R.L.- and as anyone could have guessed- he was worried about what it would look like, a black man with a white girl, in her condition.) Anyway, I should also say Rae had a bad cough, in addition to being totally zonked out from the drugs and the beating. And she had a fever, and with it came fever dreams. So she was initially in no condition to say anything coherent, nor to be aware of Laz trying to help her. She did, however, say the name Tehronne, so Laz went to find out if he was responsible for her condition. Which he wasn't, but Laz did learn Rae's name from him, as well as the fact that she's a nymphomaniac. Um... I'm probably telling some things out of order, but also he went to the pharmacy to get some medicine for Rae (claiming it was for his niece). And he's given medicine by one of the pharmacists, Angela, who seems quite friendly with Laz.
Anyway... at some point, in the midst of a fever dream, Rae wandered out into the garden, which led Laz to decide to chain her to the radiator (with enough chain to move freely within the house; and btw, the radiator itself might be symbolic, considering Lazarus's wife had mentioned the thing as one of the reasons she was leaving, but it's really not that important. I'm just sayin'). Partly this was so she couldn't wander off in her sleep, and so that he could cure her of her physical sickness. But once she was well enough, he kept her chained up so she'd stay long enough for him to try to cure her of her psychological sickness. Apparently, he believed it was God's will that he found her so that he could put an end to her sex addiction. Of course, she wasn't pleased by this, once she was fully conscious. Eventually, R.L. would find out about all this, and try to help (in spite of realizing that what Laz was doing was crazy). Oh, also there was a boy named Lincoln, who found out, but um... I'm not gonna talk about that.
Predictably, Rae eventually comes to appreciate what Laz is trying to do for her. And he does finally release her, when he realizes it's not his place to try to change her. But she sticks around anyway. Meanwhile, Ronnie gets back to town early, having been released from service due to severe anxiety. (There had been some foreshadowing of this at the start of the movie, but at the time I had no idea what was wrong with him, nor why Rae was so concerned about him.) Also predictably, Ronnie eventually finds Rae with Laz, gets the wrong idea, and reacts... badly. (But come on... Justin Timberlake vs. Samuel L. Jackson? Anyone wanna take bets on Ronnie winning? ...No, thought not.)
Listen, I've said some spoilery things here, trying to set up the basic premise of the movie for you, and now I'm going to be even spoilerier. The thing is, we finally learn that Rae and Ronnie are both messed up... that is, they both have serious, debilitating psychological conditions. And they both truly love each other and need each other. And... Laz and R.L. help with that. (I'll also say that at one point, we get an idea of what probably caused Rae's problem, but we never see anything to explain Ronnie's problem.) Anyway, I think I've spoiled enough. I don't really want to say how it ends... though it kind of doesn't, anyway. So, I dunno what else to tell you. There's some good music (including, as I said, some singing by Jackson, plus one song by Ricci). There's some humor, there's plenty of craziness and just-plain-wrong-ness. But also there's a genuinely sweet story about troubled people helping each other. You know, with chains. And the healing power of the Blues. And an electric guitar that plays even when the power goes out (maybe it's just me being ignorant, but somehow that sounds like magic). And of course, faith in God, or whatever. But I'm telling you, the main reason to watch is for the fine dramatic performances from everyone. And... for the sheer redonkulousness of it all.