Film Review: Samson & DelilahTwo Aboriginal teens find companionship as they venture out of their community together.
It’s hard to decide which is the bigger accomplishment—making an almost entirely wordless film or doing it so well the audience barely realizes that the male protagonist speaks just once during the movie. Taking place in the arid Aboriginal outback, Samson & Delilah is a remarkably restrained movie with a rich impact.
In the opening scenes, first-time feature director Warwick Thornton sets up the two main characters’ routine. In a small Aboriginal town, Delilah (Marissa Gibson) spends her days taking care of her aging Nana, feeding her medication, taking her to church, and working on elaborate dot paintings. The aimless and antagonistic Samson (Rowan McNamara) huffs paint every morning and has so little to do he can spend a day shadowing Delilah as she goes about her chores. These scenes have a wonderful sense of observation, which aligns with Warwick’s background as a cinematographer for documentaries. His smooth, handheld camerawork, with liberal use of deliberate shadows, gives the sense that you are following the characters around yourself, trying to figure them out.
After both Samson and Delilah receive wooden stick beatings from community members, they go on the lam, a recourse taken more out of emotion than necessity. While Delilah had rebuffed Samson before, now she tolerates him. Outside of their communities, they are received warily and resort to living under a highway overpass. The outside world does not treat them kindly. Delilah tries to hawk her artwork to people dining in outdoor cafés, but they refuse to meet her gaze. Samson is followed while shopping in a store, and after Delilah is attacked, she joins Samson in huffing gas until another tragedy brings them back to their community. Outcasts both in their Aboriginal town and in the white-dominated outside world, the two must find another place to call home.
Unlike many films of its type, Samson & Delilah does not explain the cultural context for many of its actions, leaving the audience to infer meaning. Why would Delilah cut off her hair after her Nana’s death? When Samson moves his mattress to Delilah’s house, and she’s unable to stop him, does that make them married, as the Nana says? And could Nana really be receiving just $200 for a painting selling in a gallery for $22,000? These aspects of Aboriginal culture remain a puzzle, leaving curious moviegoers to search online afterwards for answers.
Though neither Samson nor Delilah talks much, the fresh-faced actors convey meaning through touch, expression and reaction. Warwick likes to pair the silent duo with talkative characters, like a homeless man they meet under the bridge who spouts a mixture or nonsense and song, and poses questions they wordlessly answer. Songs, too, add to the soundscape. Both characters like to listen to music surreptitiously, and seeing Delilah creep into a car to listen to a tape tells more about her character than pages of script. Spare and beautiful, Samson & Delilah gives viewers a peephole into two characters’ struggle in a corner of the earth not visited enough on film.