I saw this powerful movie a couple of nights ago and if I could ask the Indigenous writer and film-maker, Warwick Thornton one question it would be, “why did he call it Samson and Delilah”?
There are indeed many movies about Indigenous Australia and there are quite a few made by indigenous film-makers but the ones made by indigenous filmmakers are most usually not the ones that get national and international coverage. Samson and Delilah is now becoming an exception to this rule.
In my opinion such movies as those that make the international spotlight are often still very good and often do manage to sensitively display the images and the culture well they do so in a way that can be more easily discerned by the mainstream ‘whitefellah’.
In fact I wondered if Warwick made this movie for aboriginal people and this would be another question I would ask of him. There are many Indigenous movies made by Indigenous people but these more usually circulate in the ‘Indigenous circuit’. I think that every Aboriginal in Australia would understand this film.
In fact I’ve just read an interview with Warwick on crikey.com which does answer this question and he did indeed make it for an Indigenous audience and was most surprised when it managed to ‘break out of those lines’.
“I screened it to my mob in Central Australia but only in a couple of communities, for the cast and crew that were in the film. I got complete approval from families as well as the community. There was a big sigh of relief there and it was very important to get that approval” (crikey.com)
Warwick waited a long time before getting his hands onto ‘the means of production’ in the film industry and for nearly two decades he dreamed of making movies. “Warwick Thornton is from the Katej people of Central Australia and grew up in Alice Springs. He began his career as a cinematographer in 1988 where he trained at the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association in Alice Springs. In 1994 Warwick moved to Sydney where he undertook a Batchelor of Arts specializing in Cinematography at the Australian Film Television and Radio School…..” (http://www.austlit.edu.au).
This film is bringing to Warwick the type of awards and international accolades and attention that might well make Baz Luhrmann, director of the box office movie, ‘Australia’ jealous.
When browsing around a couple of film review sites I was struck by the comments made by those people who gave this movie either zero or one star rating. A very common criticism was about the lack of dialogue.
I’ve always said that, “silence can be deafening” and often after coming out of the ‘desert’ I cannot listen to radio or the television for a few weeks. Indeed silence is loud and often confronting. Indigenous people , as a rule do not talk nearly half as much as an average ‘whitefella’ and the lack of dialogue in this movie was very authentic. Indigenous people use more ‘body language’ and this too was evident in this movie. Indeed a talkative ‘whitefella’ may well be ostracized within a couple of minutes if visiting an outback community and ‘asking questions’. Indeed it may well be ‘protocol’ to sit down in a quiet spot for a week without talking before gaining acceptance and an unwritten permission to ask the most basic of questions. Permits are required to visit and pass through the lands of many Indigenous communities.
The conditions depicted in this movie were also very realistic. The living conditions were very real, even down to the abandoned wheelchair which Samson took it upon himself to get around in at Jay Creek, a little east of Alice Springs. This reflects one of the issues that I perceive as one of the ‘subtexts’ of this movie; this being that the young people who sniff are not only rejected by mainstream Australia but are, in a way also rejected by many community elders who believe that, “they will all end up brain dead and useless in wheelchairs”.
The one thing that struck me though was the lack of people; lack of ‘mob’, but this I think was a theatrical device used by Warwick to focus on the ubiquitous nature of love that shines through and manifests despite powerlessness and dispossession. The lyrics of the song by Aboriginal band No fixed Address were used to back this up: “We have survived the white man’s world, and the hate and the torment of it all. We have survived the white man’s world and you know you can’t change that.” This song was sung by the drunk who shared one of the camps under the Todd River.
Samson and Delilah’s relationship starts to develop after Delilah’s nanna gives it her ‘tribal law’ endorsement and who announced that Samson is the ‘right skin’ so Delilah really had limited say in whether or not she may have chosen Samson in a traditional ‘whitefella way’. When her nanna refers to him as Delilah’s husband then, “it’s just about all over bar the shouting”.
Samson ‘borrowed’ a car to take them to Alice Springs after Delilah received a flogging from the old women after the death of her nanna. Delilah displayed her ‘shame’ by cutting her hair. Samson also cut his hair and hid himself under his blanket in shame when he believed Delilah had been killed.
In this movie I also found a number of subtle ‘subtexts’ such as the fact that Samson acted imperviously when Delilah was kidnapped and presumably raped and also when she was run over by a hit and run driver. He was powerless to intervene in such tragedies and such enormous tragedies are a very common fact of life in the lives of most Indigenous people in Australia and Samson dealt with his sense of powerlessness by sniffing petrol to make himself more insular.
Indigenous people are renowned for their acute peripheral vision so, to my reckoning, Samson would have witnessed these upsetting events.
Incidentally petrol that can be sniffed is now unavailable in most Indigenous communities which is ironic in that the underlying issues are ‘allowed’ to remain.
Interestingly in reader comments about this film on the National Indigenous Times Blog (http://nit.com.au/blog/?p=291) there is reflected what I believe to be another ‘subtext’; that being the disenfranchisement of Indigenous men that is often perceived by their women: “This film is the truth. Overdue. Brilliant! Silence. Even truer would be a sad ending, but I’m glad it wasn’t. Silence of total oppression, disenfranchisement and dispossession. It’s real love. It’s the strength of indigenous women. It leaves every other film for dead” (reader comment).
Other ‘subtexts’ include the unscrupulous exploitation of aboriginal artists, the strength that can be imparted from that unique sense of belonging and the healing power of your own Land, the apparently ironic relationship that well-heeled tourists have with Indigenous art and the blend of Christianity and Tribal Law that have melded into what some theologians and academics call ‘Serpent Theology’ and the sad fact that incarceration is a way of life for many Indigenous people.
The ‘drunk’ under the bridge went into a Christian Rehab’ Centre whilst Delilah rejected the Church and instead chose the healing power of their own Land for herself and Samson.
The utter and stark truthfulness of the movie prevails right until the end; where the optimism and hopefulness that their love brings them both despite their oppression winks wistfully at both us and them.
Well done Warwick.