Friday, March 23, 2007

A Few Brief Observations Concerning Black Snake Moan

To immediately undercut my own essay title, let me first say that much of this is going to be observations about commentaries I’ve read about this movie, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci, two actors who could probably sell any story, no matter how implausible or preposterous. So we begin with the acknowledgement that the old Hollywood Magic is in overdrive here, and I find nothing wrong with that.

Second, let me stipulate that, as with all of the estimable Jon Swift’s book reviews, I Have Not Actually Seen This Movie. This, in fact, is one of the ongoing arguments that have erupted on multiple comment threads seemingly everywhere. One must See the Movie to have a valid opinion, at least so say a goodly many people, people who, I imagine, have nevertheless formed opinions about foreign countries they have never lived in (or even visited), wars they have not fought in, drugs they have never taken, sexual practices they have only imagined, and celebrities they have only read about.

And let me be very clear about this, I have upon occasion judged books by their covers, bands by the names of their songs, people by their appearance, and movies by their reviews, advertising, and interviews in Entertainment Weekly. Call me shallow. Or possibly concede that popular culture is a grand interconnected archipelago of information, with islands that are often observable from other islands, without the need to set foot on their shores to count the number of trees thereon.

But enough: here is the basic plot of BSM, known to anyone who has watched television or read the entertainment section of a newspaper within the past two weeks.

Ricci plays Rae, a girl who was sexually abused by her father, and whose boyfriend has just left for the National Guard. She’s sexually compulsive (aka a “nymphomaniac”), gets gang raped then beaten to unconsciousness, after which she is found by Lazarus (Jackson), and taken to his house where he chains her to a radiator for many days, during which the transference bond that forms between them cures her of her compulsions.

I just slipped the “transference” thing in; usually it’s called “tough love” or some such drivel.

Okay first interesting thing about the comments I’ve seen so far. They’re all about the chains, the radiator, and the interracial aspect. For some reason, these rank higher than the gang-raped-and-left-for dead part. Why is that?

One possibility is that we’ve seen that so many times in modern cinema that it’s become unremarkable. Another is that if follows the course of “normal” morality; get high, screw a lot of guys, well, hey, you’ve got to expect a certain amount of brutal beatings along the way. Goes with the territory.

I think I’m going to go with the interracial bondage explanation, though. Black man, white woman in chains. That’s certainly what they’re selling in the print ads, which say “Everything is Hotter Down South.” Gotta go duck huntin’ where the ducks are.

Okay, just a speculation mind you, but what do you think would happen in “real life” to a sex-and-drug compulsive young woman who had been gang-raped and beaten, then found by an ordinary kind citizen who called 911 and she’d been taken to a local hospital? One good chance is that she’d have been treated, then released, then found again a few days later in similar condition (or dead, but that ends the story prematurely). After a time or two of this, she’d have been involuntarily committed as “a danger to herself or others” (the latter as a possible vector for STDs—this does happen). If she became "intractable," she’d then be, at the very least, tied to her bed at night, and probably given some fairly powerful medication to make her more “tractable.”

Or possibly, at some point she’d commit some petty crime and be just jailed.

If she were really, really lucky, she might be given medication for bi-polar mood disorder (part of the “lucky” thing is that this would be a correct diagnosis; it’s at least a plausible one), and there would be some brilliant therapist who accidentally came to be working for a county hospital for a while, who could effect the transference cure on her long enough to turn her life around.

I know, this is only slightly less implausible than the movie scenario. She wouldn’t look as good as Christina Ricci in any case.

My point here is that Jackson’s character is actually doing what movie characters do all the time: acting as a vigilante and taking the law into his own hands, except here he’s being a sort of “vigilante therapist.” It works because in Hollywood Magic, vigilantism always works, provided the hero’s heart is pure and intentions are good. After all, what are a few chains and a thong between friends?


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