“Samson and Delilah” isn’t a re-telling of the Old Testament story of a strongman and a seductress, and least not in any straightforward way. It’s a film about two aboriginal teens in a backwater town in Australia. Samson wakes every day to the sound of a three piece rez band playing just outside his window; it’s possible that they’re rehearsing, I suppose, but it seems more like they’re just passing the time as best they can. amson is impish and incorrigible; he takes what he wants simply by being persistent; he’s not violent, but he’s certainly a nuisance. At one point a storekeeper shoos him away like he would a stray dog.
Delilah couldn’t be more different. She diligently cares for her grandmother, waking her every morning and making sure she takes her pills, wheeling her to the health clinic (situated in a tractor trailer) and helping her paint the canvasses that an art dealer from the big city comes by and purchases once a month. Delilah has nothing but disgust and contempt for Samson, and does her best to ignore him. Her scorn and dirty looks don’t bother him a bit. In a moment of weakness she buys him a bag of candy, and he reads it as an invitation to move in with her.
There’s a certain humor in Samson’s unwillingness to take no for an answer, as well as in Delilah’s stubbornness, and it’s highlighted by the fact that there’s hardly any dialogue in the film. We learn late in the film that Samson can’t speak, but up until that point, it just seemed like everyone seemed more comfortable communicating without words. And thank goodness for the humor. “Samson and Delilah” starts out pretty bleak and grows darker after that. Some pretty awful things happen in “Samson and Delilah,” but the point might be ultimately uplifting; it’s about the human spirit’s ability to endure awful things and both offer and accept love, or at least kindness, in the midst of them.
It could be seen as a parable about the dangers of huffing gasoline. At the beginning of the film Samson is a happy-go-lucky incorrigible gas huffer, but by the end he’s barely alive. Delilah, to the contrary, is a girl who needs someone to care for. She is smart hard working, and stubborn. When her grandmother dies, she is set adrift; it isn’t until Samson needs her that she seems to come alive again.
When Delilah’s grandmother dies, the women of the village beat her within an inch of her life. Meanwhile Samson endures a (much more deserved) beating, and decided to run off, taking her with him. They find themselves living under a bridge in the nearby town of Alice Springs; one of the most poignant (and disturbing) moments in “Samson and Delilah” comes when their truck runs out of gas, and Samson abandons it, carrying a bottle of gas with him – he’d rather huff it than use it to get somewhere worth going. This is when things are the bleakest; Delilah tries to find a way to make some money and buy some food, while Samson just looks for more gas to huff. The filmmaker seemingly becomes locked in Samson’s drug-addled perspective; twice terrible things happen to Delilah as she walks a few feet behind him. Both times we, the audience, watch as it happens in the background, out of focus; we are shocked, but he doesn’t notice, and we’re left to piece together as best we can what’s going on from very limited narrative bits.
But eventually, “Samson and Delilah” recovers from its bad case of gloom and despair; somebody (the film hints that it might be Christians) help Delilah out, and she, in turn, seeks out Samson and sets him on the road to recovery, even as she’s recovering from injuries herself.
The pace of “Samson and Delilah” is glacial; this isn’t blockbuster or even indie Hollywood. Things develop slowly and quietly. Viewers used to the noise and flash of multiplex movies might find “Samson and Delilah” to be a real snoozer, but anyone accustomed to the way time passes on the rez should find the pace of “Samson and Delilah” familiar and relatable. This is a film you have to decide to watch; it quietly requires your attention, rather than clamoring for it. If you’ll give it, you’ll find it to be a rewarding, emotionally powerful experience. Director Warwick Thornton and the two actors who play the leads–Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson–create compelling, relatable people out of the barest bones of cinematic storytelling. I guarantee that if you stick with it and make it to the end of “Samson and Delilah,” you’ll want to watch it again, and share it with friends.