Black Snake Moan, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Gertrude Stein

Without question Black Snake Moan participates in a remaking of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, at least on the basic level of “sex, race, and violence,” as the blog Read, Write, Now proposes. But every movie about “sex, race, and violence” is not necessarily a “reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Two differences seem to me interesting. The chains are reversed. Rather than Samuel Jackson’s Uncle Tom-as-Lazarus character in chains, Little Eva, played by Christina Ricci, is in one chain whose purpose is to keep her tethered to domestic space and away from every penis. Lazarus’s name tells us that he’s dead, so his penis is nonthreatening, until Ricci’s Ray character reawakens him/it.
Lazarus’s Tom participates in the cultural remaking of Stowe’s original Tom into a less sexually potent character–the older man of late 19th-century illustrators, about two decades older than the Tom in Stowe’s book.

In the movie, the outer world offers some threats to the domestic space (where Tom and Little Eva use laughably exaggerated symbols of sadomasochism to create a comforting and almost sexless domesticity), and the tension rises as the movie approaches its conclusion. To say how it ends, without giving it way, one can merely say that Lazarus/Tom finds a sexual outlet, though I’m not sure that his love interest plot is very compelling. The ultimate goal of Lazarus’s sexual reawakening is a PG plot, not the Ray/Little Eva one. The plot, despite its twist, is ultimately obsessed with an older, wiser, Tom, whose sexual impulses (to the degree he has them) are not directed toward white womanhood. Perhaps the major innovation is that Lazarus does not just disappear after curing the hurts of the white character–see Stephen Railton on the persistence of this theme in the movies–he instead has the Stowe-approved PG plot to move into. Sexuality in this alternate plot is a wink and a nod rather than the writhing red-draped Ricci as the Whore of Babylon.

This movie (even on one viewing) is an interesting remake of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but it has one scene that has already inspired a poetic impulse. After his wife Rose leaves him, Lazarus uses an old farm tractor to mow her patch of roses, which his the hand-made sign “Rose’s Roses.” So I give you…

Thanks, Gertrude Stein

The rows of Rose’s roses arose.
A row is a rose is a row is a rose.
The rows of Rose’s roses
Laz mows–
Rose is deposed.

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