Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Samson and Delilah: the good fight

(This review contains some spoilers)

Samson and Delilah is a film that all Australians should see. It is confronting and disturbing: poverty, unemployment, petrol sniffing, violence, clashes within aboriginal communities and with so-called mainstream society. Nevertheless in keeping with the optimism of its writer/director Warwick Thornton, it offers some hope.

Warwick Thornton told Real Time magazine that:
I’m one of the biggest romantics in the world and, from day one, these two kids had to live. That was the most important thing. It would have been quite easy for them to die and that’s just wrong, that is so wrong. I couldn’t live with myself as a writer. I need them to live for me as a human being, to feel stronger.
This is a very personal story about teenage love, more Romeo and Juliet if anything. The one bit of good fortune they have is that they are the right skins for marriage. The hair-cutting connection to the biblical story of Samson and Delilah is based in an ancient aboriginal custom.

Their courtship and bonding are unique, as Samson doesn’t speak. Traditional communication such as sign and body language are a necessity.

This drama cannot be divorced from its social and political context. The seeming hopelessness and helplessness of remote aboriginal communities like this one screams out for not just understanding but some way forward. Some will not be happy with the solution presented here as it involves traditional homelands, demonised by some Australian commentators as “cultural museums” that offer little positive for the future.

Samson lives out the despair of many young men caught in this cultural chaos.
Their lives revolve around western music and fading attempts to maintain traditional connections to land and family. Chronic boredom and lack of purpose exacerbate the aimlessness.

Delilah spends her time supporting the only functioning member of her family who is around, her Nana (Mitjili Napanangka Gibson). When the inevitable happens the pay back aunts follow ritual in punishing her but offer little other help to this 14 year old.

Their escape to Alice Springs reflects the everyday life of many aborigines who have looked to towns for some solution. We see the exploitation of indigenous artists, local hostility to the homeless, the massive gulf between tourists and the people they have come to see. Gonzo, played by Warwick’s brother Scott Thornton, is a riverbed refugee who finds solace in cask wine and his own songs. He is their sole support in Alice. When he looks to religion for his salvation, they do not follow this well-trodden path.

Thornton brings out the best in his inexperienced cast. The performances of relative newcomers such Marissa Gibson Rowan MacNamara are remarkable. They handle the tragic and comic moments with equal ease.

The Real Time interview, the official website and its downloadable Press Kit have detailed insight into Warwick's motivation and methods. Both well worth a visit.
Everybody owns a reason for being. In everybody’s journey through life there is the good fight.

Samson & Delilah is my reason for being. It is my good fight.
(Warwick Thornton)

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