On a whim, I rented “Black Snake Moan” Partially because of the way they marketed it (particularly the cover of the DVD) I couldn’t figure it out. I was afraid I was getting something really sleezy.
The movie was quite the opposite. In some sense, though, I think it was intentional… Setting up a situation that activates all sorts of assumptions, preconceptions, even prejudices. Seriously, what do most of us think when we see a strong man with a chained up, half-naked young woman?
Do our preconceptions change if we locate race: The man is black and the woman is white?
I wish I could say that I didn’t fall into it. But again, I think it was partially intentional on the part of the brilliant film makers, playing on our assumptions and preconceptions.
It’s this amazing commentary on race, gender, mental health and illness, power dynamics, and Christianity.
There were numerous scenes I found brilliant, touching, insightful. This was one. The back story to this scene is that the main character, Lazurus, finds Rae left for dead, half-naked right outside his yard. She is mentally ill, sexually acts out, suffered horrendous abuse and is wildy and desperately in love with Ronnie. (Niether Ronnie or Lazurus appear in the scene below.) Lazurus decides that can lead Rae into wholeness and chains her in his living room so that she can’t leave and go back to her old ways. R.L. is Lazurus’ pastor and oldest friend. This scene is the meeting between Rae and R.L.
You a preacher?
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… and Jesus would let you go on to heaven.
You could put it that way.
But that’s so ****’n stupid.
(she catches herself)
I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to curse.
What’s on your mind?
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.
I’m gonna tell you somethin’, and it’s just gonna be between you and me.
(Rae anxiously nods)
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.)
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.
(Rae has never had anyone talk to her like this. She is listening. She is understanding.)
What’s your heaven? What gives you peace?
(Rae looks at her bare feet. She tries to respond but the pain in her chokes back the words. Tears come to her.)
(struggling to speak)
There are some sexually explicit scenes in the movie. There are themes that are disturbing, and others that are simply mature. If these things are stumbling blocks for you I’d obviously reccomend you stay away.
But even if you don’t watch the movie, I hope you’ll join me in admiring the truthfullness in the scene quoted above. The characters of Rae and R.L. name such real stumbling blocks that few people really name explicitly:
Non-Christians find the idea of God’s forgiveness ridiculous. We’d be wise to simply own the ridiculousness of it all, and affirm it as truth anyway.
Christians, on the other hand, all too often, simply pass the time in this world while waiting for the all-you-can-eat-buffet in the sky. We’d be wise to carry on about heaven less, I think, and do what we can to bring God’s kingdom about us in the here and now.