Samson and Delilah

Dir: Warwick Thornton

Rating: 3.5/5.0


97 Minutes

Despite living in Australia for six months, I only saw people of aboriginal descent a handful of times. Once, at a bar near my Queensland University campus, another at a party in a small New South Wales town and finally a fairly good amount when I visited Darwin. Unfortunately, many of them were drunk and I watched the cops load one guy up into a little cage in their back of their vehicle after he attacked another guy with a broken bottle.

In film, the aborigines have been mythologized, from the end of the world hokum of Peter Weir’s The Last Wave to the grinning lights on the Earth below John Glenn’s capsule in The Right Stuff. Unfortunately, many of Australia’s aboriginal poverty live in abject poverty, from the Sydney slum of Redfern to forgotten hovels in the Northern Territory and inland deserts.

Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah, begins as the young Samson (Roman McNamara) wakes in the morning, takes a long huff from a can of paint and then joins the bassist and drummer playing outside his window before his older brother takes the guitar away from him. The rest of Samson’s day is spent wandering around his two-bit town, stealing wheelchairs from other, equally bored young men and writing graffiti on walls in between deep sniffs from his black sharpie.

Meanwhile, Delilah (Marissa Gibson) spends her days painting aboriginal art with her Nana and goading the older woman into taking her pills. She doesn’t seem to like the wayward Samson much, as they throw rocks at one another and silently regard each other with scowls. This routine is repeated numerous times during the film’s first act, until Samson snaps, and both of the title characters are brutally beaten. They then steal a truck and set off for the big city where Samson becomes more deeply addicted to gasoline fumes.

At the core of Samson and Delilah is a love story, despite the fact neither character says one word to each other for most of the film. Instead, we see the world through their gasoline fume clouded eyes, a place where white Australians can pay $22,000 for aboriginal art in an expensive gallery but choose not to see the artist standing in the street, trying to sell her painting.

There is little plot to speak of in Samson and Delilah, but Thornton, serving as his own cinematographer, films locations in a dreamy haze that suggest a gross representation the aboriginal notion of Dreamtime. Samson and Delilah move through the city streets unseen, their (mis)fortunes becoming worse as the film wears on. Yet, there is something hypnotic and humanistic underneath this distancing technique.

While Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout will remain the gold standard film that depicts the impossible culture clash between Australia’s indigenous people and its white settlers, Samson and Delilah is impossible to ignore. Its story of vagrants and brothers under the bridge is as universal as its aboriginal characters are place specific. As the film ends a vaguely hopeful note, Samson and Delilah seem to realize there is nothing for them out in the white-dominated world, reveling in an isolation even more remote than their small village. At the end, they find each other.

by David Harris

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