Samson and Delilah: The art of minimalism

We see Samson wake up in a dirty, grimy, nearly dilapidated room. He goes outside and tries to play guitar with some older men, but even having just woken up he wants to rock out on the electric guitar. They want to play a mellow tune, thus they take the guitar from him and send him on his way. We then see Delilah, a pretty girl sleeping under a tent outside with her grandmother. They live in an aboriginal community in the outback of Australia. It’s a modern community, but resembles a third-world village. Many people live in poor conditions like hollowed out houses made of cement blocks, working on crafts that others, specifically whites, sell for them. Samson and Delilah is a different film than we’re used to. It doesn’t have action. It has left the melodrama of star-crossed lovers on the cutting room floor. It’s a film that barely has dialogue. To make this clear, Samson says less than a sentence throughout the film. It’s a film about proving something, about taking pride, and yet knowing when you need help.

The way the aboriginal community treats Samson and Delilah is by and large a reflection of what we see in some Asian countries, or South American, and definitely Africa. We get this clash of the modern world with old world values and practices. Samson is definitely one for the modern world, but he lacks the ability to function in that world. When we understand this, we can see that his addiction to gasoline fumes is his way of coping. Delilah is more grounded in the tradition of it all, but after a serious thrashing by the elder women of the reservation after her grandmother passes away, we can begin to see a change in her. She enjoys sitting in her truck, listening to the same radio station. It’s here that we begin to see a kinship of sorts between the two title characters. While she watches him dance around like an idiot, she seems to have some feelings boil to the surface, ones that we aren’t sure she’s felt before. The characters are very young. Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson play the teens incredibly well, especially when our culture is often focused on the dialogue between two characters to develop a working worthy chemistry. But here we have a film that has very little speaking, leaning more towards hand gestures, body language, and acts of aggression. We are made to watch mostly exposition, a narrative told by the body and the landscape.

The picturesque world we see actually exists. It’s mostly barren, mostly red and dusty. We can see the grime caked to the face of Samson. But it’s in moments where we see him at his most disgusting that we find in him some excellent humor. One scene in particular follows Delilah as she’s pushing her grandmother around town through the dusty, red roads. Samson also has acquired a wheel chair, and he races them, making his own sound effects to dramatize the steady walk. His speedy wheels kick up dust as he zooms away. This sparks in him a fondness for pestering Delilah, and their relationship from there on out is rocky at best.

The film follows such themes as regret and loss, but it refuses to rely on old clichés. It brings a very real pain to loss, both emotional and physical. It’s a 90-minute melodrama about two teens who just want out of their life. To escape their world, their limited experiences have to suffice in a much larger, less agreeable setting. Their journey to the city is distressing. Their life under a bridge, their crazy homeless companion, the realities that people don’t want is something Delilah has to deal with. Samson, on the other hand, is something like a modern teenager-gone-wrong. He finds his freedom and abuses it. It’s a film about duality. Samson and Delilah is not an exciting film. It can even be considered slow, if not boring, to a general audience, but the lives we see on the screen, for once, feel real. Warwick Thornton has taken these two actors and given them a life unlike what we’ve seen in popular cinema for a long time. It’s a picture, almost a documentary, about the struggle of finding our strengths while dealing with weakness. This is the outback unlike Crocodile Dundee or Australia. At last we see the human beings, particularly ones that are often neglected or stereotyped in cinema. Samson and Delilah represents a concept, and life through a viewfinder for all to see. It’s a snapshot of pain, turmoil, determination, and love.

Article by David Haight

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