Of Images and History – Samson and Delilah

Simply brilliant.

Not much else I could say apart from those two words put together. Conversely, it also works well when they are split up, for the words ‘simple’ and ‘brilliant’ applies in equal measures to this delightful little film from Australia. Starring Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson, first-timers equally directed by a first-time director (Warwick Thornton), it could well be said that this movie is a film that doesn’t have much in terms of expectations to begin with. Set within the context of an Aboriginal community, with slices of allegories and metaphors pertaining to the Aboriginal tale, a tale that not many people (especially those of the colonising countries) give much of a toss…

…who’s going to really care?

Muji had a new target market.

Samson (McNamara) is a teenager who wakes up everyday to the sounds of his brother playing music directly outside of his room. He spends his days teasing people, making trouble, getting high by sniffing petrol and basically just…being a teenager. Without a care in the world, he sees Delilah (Gibson) as she spends time and takes care of her grandmother, Nana (Mitjili Napanangka Gibson – any relations?). Nana, seeing his impending interest in Delilah, teases her incessantly about him. “There’s your husband,” she chuckles.

It should also be mentioned that Delilah and Nana spend a lot of their time together working on Nana’s art. She learns much from her grandmother, but before she could learn even more, Nana passes away. Blamed for not taking care of her by her relatives, Samson arrives like a knight in not-so-shining armor and whisks her away to Alice Springs, where things don’t actually improve for the better.

Imagery tells everything in this film. Amazing to think that the film’s two main characters, both of whom practically are meant to fall in love with each other, utters not a single word to one another. When was the last time you see something like that? And yet, actions truly does speak louder than words. Witness when Samson first sees Delilah. Clearly repellant to him, she tries hard to resist him as he keeps on coming back. He’d block her path, trying to get her attention. She throws rocks at him to tell him, “Go away!” Yet he comes back, flinging his mattress into Delilah’s compound to spend the night there. She throws it back out. He comes back, a dead kangaroo on his back, striding triumphantly and confidently to Delilah’s house as if to say, “Honey, I’m home! Look what I brought for dinner!”

The fence sitter could never make a firm decision…

This is what the first part of the film plays like. The way it’s shot is interesting, and truth be told, there’s little that is too special about it. However, they aren’t boring; I’d argue that the whole of the first twenty minutes or so gave rise to a series of establishing shots put together to give a holistic idea about their day to day lives. You’d see how Samson would while away his days, how he would deal with his brother (and his music), while Delilah herself had her own ways of escape her trials and tribulations, going into a car every night to listen to music.

Just as there is little dialogue in the film, in many ways, there is also hardly any music in the film, but that doesn’t mean music isn’t important. Samson gets pushed over the edge by his brother’s music, while he himself tries to express himself in a way that…well, his brother doesn’t quite approve. Apparently rock music is not quite at the top of the Aboriginal agenda (at least for his brother). Delilah, on the other hand, finds comfort in her own classical music, which she listens to almost every night in the car. It is also when she realises that she’s somehow falling for him, despite her earlier misgivings. I once read that Robert Rodriguez didn’t have much of a clue as to how to plot his first feature film. He did, however, make many short films beforehand, and so preceeded to create three short films, by looping the story over and over again, making only minor changes, for his feature debut, ‘El Mariachi’. We didn’t have to go that far, but that was what I was reminded of as Samson wakes up for his second day. The establishing had been done, now comes the storm.

It is a storm that starts with the passing of Nana. Like the music earlier, there was nothing particular special, but the sounds were used to emphasise the emotional impact of some of the scenes. This is one example: as she realises that her grandmother had passed away, the scene becomes unbearable silent, the only music the grief that must surely come from Delilah. It must come, it must come…but it didn’t. The silence was deafening. She merely closes her grandmother’s eyes, and starts to cut her own hair with a crude razor. The sound of the razor scathing into her hair was particularly crisp, and all the more difficult to listen to (and experience).

Korean dramas have new competition.

We get back to the images, as both Delilah and Samson cross over into the new world by crossing the railway tracks into the white man’s world. Symbolically, too, it identifies them as the other, from the other side of the tracks into the built up civilisation of the world of tall buildings, cafe lattes, and interest in art. Speaking of which, it’s funny to note that the same artwork that Delilah worked on with her grandmother was being sold at a shop in the white people’s town. She tries to sell the last artwork she worked with her grandmother to complete, but she was refused. What does that say about…something? At one point, she gets physically taken away. A tale of white Australia coming to rape the land of the Aborigines? Of the White Australia policy that took children away from their families from a young age? There’s many more to be made of these especially in the second half of the film, but I fear I may have revealed too much as it is.

This movie has left a big impression on me (in case you haven’t noticed). For a lot of movies, I find myself having to re-watch or re-read certain details about the film in order to write an informed opinion about that particular film. I don’t go as far as many film reviewers go (writing notes about the film while watching the said film), but I do rely on my memory a lot in order to…well, re-view the films (pun intended). It has certainly done well enough to be nominated as Australia’s Oscar nominee come the awards season (which has already started, mind you).

Shot through the heart, and she’s to blame.

With ‘Samson and Delilah’, however, I find myself recalling the events very easily. It probably helps that there wasn’t a lot of dialogue there to begin with, but nevertheless, the visual way in which Warwick Thornton told the story is a wonderful reminder of the visuality of the film medium. It’s all about creating images with which to tell your story, and all the better if those images sticks in your mind long afterwards. I talked about the series of establishing shots; I shall thus sum all of this up as a series of memorable images forming interesting day-to-day events, patched together into a wonderful little film that I think should be required viewing for many people. You probably won’t care at the start of the film, but you’ll definitely shift your position, ever so slightly perhaps, by the time the credits roll up. If ever I manage to become a film lecturer, this film would be at the top of the list of films to show to my students.

Like I said before, simply brilliant.

Fikri apologises for the lack of posts. Crunch time was more crunching than he thought it would be…

Featured image credit: Biblical Missiology

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