With Samson and Delilah, Warwick Thornton has created a slow-paced romance that shows the blossoming relationship of a young Aboriginal couple and at the same time, quite plainly, the hardships that many of Australia’s indigenous people have to undergo.
Samson and Delilah is probably one of the least passionate romances that has ever been shot – an unassertive kiss on Samson’s forehead is the closest thing to a romantic act the viewer gets to see – but it might be one of the most touching.
Not far away from Alice Springs, in an Aboriginal settlement, there is no room for a misty-eyed, Austensian vision of love, which is probably because people’s lives are determined by problems more elementary than finding the right husband: Samson is addicted to petrol sniffing, Delilah gets underpaid for spending hours painting pictures – which in the end are sold for a fortune – only to make ends meet, and violence lurks around every corner. When the couple leaves for the big city, things get even worse: The daily struggle for survival is even more difficult, Delilah is kidnapped, raped and later even run over by a car. Still, in all these chaotic and sometimes tragic moments, the two teenagers begin to have a, maybe not so typical, relationship. What is so remarkable about it is the fact that this happens nearly completely without any use of dialogue.
“Where words fail, music speaks”
Since there is so little use of dialogue, music is given an essential role throughout the whole film and if you listen well enough, you will hear how cleverly it is employed. Take Charley Pride’s songs at the beginning and the end of the film as an example. They do not only embed the whole story in an atmosphere of love but symbolically show how much indigenous Australians are dominated by other cultural influences, in this case by American country music. Furthermore, it is worth paying closer attention to the order in which the songs were played. Where the first song is more optimistic and starry-eyed, the latter is more prosaic, which mirrors the way love often goes – without judging this evolution as negative – and also the relationship of Samson and Delilah, who do not seem to be madly in love and all excited about it but whose love is much more quiet, more plain and genuine just as it is described in the song.
Another moment where music is of importance is in the scene in which Samson is dancing outside his house to music from the radio and Delilah is sitting in a car, listening to her favourite song. There is this short moment showing a close-up of Delilah and at the same time both tunes – Samson’s rock and Delilah’s more traditional Mexican music (Ana Gabriel) – blend together.
There is no precise instant that makes clear that they are a couple but that moment, this fusion makes it quite obvious that Delilah has taken more than a serious interest in Samson. Being in a relationship means to share things, it is a constant state of things coming together (if you like, you can think of the cheesy notion of souls meeting but feel free to think of any other moments of conjunction in a relationship) and this is shown through the use of music.
The use of music – but also the choice of colours – in the same scene also reflects how different both characters are. Delilah, a rather serious and responsible character, listens to slow, traditional music, whereas Samson, who at times behaves more like a child, dances to fast rock music. To underline this difference even more, the shots showing Delilah are kept in warm, reddish colours, whereas Samson’s dancing scenes are dominated by cool tones of blue.
The devastating effects of boredom
It is, however, important to understand that Samson and Delilah is not only the story of two teenagers falling in love. It is also the story of the hardships of life in Australian Aboriginal communities, where some people suffer from alcoholism and drug abuse. One element that can lead to either of these problems is boredom. In order to make the reviewer feel the same dullness that might have led to Samson’s drug problem, Thornton works a lot with repetition. The most recurrent element used to convey that boredom, is the song played by the band of the community. It is not only that the song is played over and over again but it is in itself quite boring because it only consists of the same three chords played in a row.
Gonzo, the homeless Aborigine that the main characters meet in the city, does not, at least not obviously, struggle with boredom but rather with his drinking problem and its consequences, that are alluded to in one of the songs he sings. One line, taken from Tom Waits’ Jesus gonna be here, goes “Well I’ve been faithful and I’ve been so good, except for drinking but he knew that I would”. Thornton decided to use a song that deals with the struggles of someone – in this case an alcohol-addicted Aborigine – who tries to be a good Christian, which again shows the influence of foreign cultures on the Australian native population, since Christianity was not a part of the indigenous people’s lives until the British arrived.
Warwick Thornton managed to use music not only to create the right atmosphere, the songs all have their own purpose. Rarely has music in a film been better used than in the case of Samson and Delilah.