PCA reviews films that you’ve never seen…but should!
To most North American audiences, Australia translates into the whimsical smirk of Paul Hogan and Crocodile Dundee. But, of course, tjos stereotype represents the true Australian landscape as much as westerns and gangster films do America. Australia isn’t all about kangaroos, Kylie Minogue and those quirky accents. There is another side to Australia that even the people who live there probably don’t want to know about. This is the wold that first time director Warwick Thorton shows us in his moving 2009 film Samson and Delilah. Yet, while the film takes place in the Australian desert, no matter where in the world you live, the realities of this remarkable film is true in your own country and your own communities. Although the tag line to Samson and Delilah is “True Love,” this is the really the story of the shadow children that society passes by.
Set in a bleak Aboriginal community in the Central Australian desert, Samson and Delilah is the story of two young teenagers with nothing except each other. Samson is a whimsical and mischievous boy who has no outlet for his energy due to the poverty and monotony that he faces in his village. Instead he passes the time listening to the radio, trying to play his older brother’s guitar and sniffing glue. Samson has a crush on Delilah who, with her grandmother, spends her days making a scarce amount of money painting mats that are sold in a nearby city. Victims of poverty and boredom, Samson and Delilah live each day as it is the same. However, when Delilah’s grandmother passes away their world is turned upside down in a hail of superstition and violence causing the pair flees from their village to the big city, only to find out that there is a worse hell then one you run away from.
Samson and Delilah is a look into the real life world of kids that live on the street. While society just tries to look the other way instead of wondering how they got there, Samson and Delilah not only offers and explanation, but gives these kids faces, personalities and compelling stories. These are not gutter snipes. These are real people with a real story. The film deals with the topics of abandonment, poverty, drug addiction and homelessness, but it also deals with loyalty, love and redemption. What is remarkable is that writer.director Thorton does this without ever being preachy or condescending to the viewer or his subjects. His characters are the way they are because they just are. They have their demons but it never makes them terrible people.
The film would not have achieved it’s goals without the incredible performances by newcomers Rowan McNamara and Melissa Gibson in the title roles. Never on film before, they are compelling to watch despite the fact that they rarely utter any lines. Gibson speaks a few lines to her grandmother, while McNamara speaks only once in a powerful moment near the film’s climax. Yet, these two young actors manage to endear themselves to the audience and have a magnetic quality through revealing a full range of emotion in their faces, actions and body language, proving that language is only secondary to understanding.
Rowan McNamara has an impish charm about him that can only be compared to 1930’s India actor Sabu. Discovered by Thorton, McNamara was reported to not be able to read or speak English, but with wild hair and a sly grin he captures each scene he is in. Thorton could not have chosen a more dynamic central character for his film. Yet it is his decent into drug addiction which becomes part of the tragic truth of the film. Glue sniffing is a real concern in countries all over the world, which draws in youth from poor communities. It is an easy drug to get their hands on, and it is almost impossible for officials to control. Through McNamara, Thorton puts a face and a name to the forgotten addicted youth of the world, instead of just passing them over as glue sniffing street urchen. The viewer becomes attached to Samson, and awaits for his redemption.
Gibson, in the role of Delilah, not only becomes Samson’s tragic side-kick, but also the brains of the pair. In one of the most painful truths presented in the film, Delilah discovers how her talents had been exploited, and taking the initiative to survive the only she can, she turns back to art to make money but, in the city, is unsuccessful. The reality of her world in contrast to the modern Australian world is seen as Delilah walks through a restaurant patio, aggressively trying to sell her art, growing more unstable and desperate with each person she shows it to as she descends into madness. In the end, Delilah becomes the one who saves them both, when Samson obviously can’t save himself.
But do Samson and Delilah love each other? The film starts almost like an old Gene Kelly film where the girl and the boy hate each other in the opening but fall in love by the end of the film. However, Samson and Delilah stay together because they have no one else. They take care of each other because they come from the same reality, and there is nobody else who understands them. Perhaps that is how true love between two people is found.
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