Review: ‘Samson and Delilah’ Australian film directed by Warwick Thornton

May 2009


The Players

Rowan McNamara, Marissa Gibson, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson and Scott Thornton


Rowan McNamara as Samson and Marissa Gibson as Delilah in 'Samson and Delilah'


Rowan McNamara as Samson and Marissa Gibson as Delilah



This is a tough nugget of a film, an absolute gem. It is a love story.

The deceptively simple narrative takes you into the dark side of Aboriginal life in the remote desert communities of central Australia. It pulls no punches taking the viewer on a empathetic ride into the lives of two young people struggling to find their reason for being on this earth. Here is violence, abuse, rape and addiction with the subtle hope of redemption.

Samson is addicted to petrol sniffing. Delilah tries to ignore him. She looks after her grandmother who is an artist, pushing her around in an wheelchair, feeding her medicine and taking her to the health clinic. Samson forces himself on Delilah, sleeping next to her but never with her. Then her grandmother dies and Delilah is blamed by the women elders of the community. Samson’s addiction escalates. He steals a car and with Delilah in tow they flee to Alice Springs to live under a flyover and sniff petrol, to be looked down upon by tourists in trendy cafes. Things get worse before they get (slightly) better.

That is the bare bones of the story. But I want to talk about other things.

The film is the traditional three acts but the narrative reads like an oral history only shown in images: themes are repeated over and again with subtle variations, like the arc of great music reiterating the flow of energy. There is little dialogue which intensifies the sounds of the desert, the band that plays on the verandah and the ringing of telephones. Every human seems to be alienated from the landscape. The Aborigines seem to be just floating on the surface of the land like everyone else, just struggling to survive. The landscape towers above the participants. Unlike our usual perception of Aboriginal people being in touch with the earth through the Dreamtime, here the director Warwick Thornton seems to suggest otherwise, until right at the end of the film.

Delilah is the strength in the film. It is her stoicism, her strength that helps Samson see it through. She ends up pushing Samson in the same wheelchair that she pushed her grandmother around in. His loss of strength is palpable, his addiction ongoing. You believe this story, the non-professional actors grounding you in the red dust of the desert.

There are several remarkable elements that lift this film to sublime places. Some of them are the most moving moments I have seen in a film in many a year:

The soundtrack, like a disjointed heartbeat, that accompanies their life under the flyover. The soundtrack of Samson’s rock and roll competing with Delilah’s music in her 4 wheel drive as one fades into the other.

Samson and Delilah sitting outside the health centre in white plastic chairs picking their feet off the ground so they won’t get bitten by ants.

Samson sitting in the wheelchair in the middle of the road at night, rocking back and forward on the wheels of the chair, so off his face that he is oblivious of the approaching 4 wheel drive until it is right upon him. Exceptional.

Delilah, towards the end of the film, washing the body of Samson with soap while he sits in a trough of water. More sensuality, more sexuality packed into 30 seconds than you will ever see in a full blown love scene. Amazing.

Samson, his head under a blanket under the flyover. The scene fades not to black as it does regularly in this film but to 80% of black and hovers there, just under the level of consciousness, before the sun rises again. This is masterful, poetic film making.

Samson, taking his ghetto blaster outside at night, dancing under the light of the verandah to rock and roll music watched by Delilah from her refuge in a 4 wheel drive. This scene is so beautiful, so genuine. The natural grace of Samson’s dancing opens Delilah’s eyes towards him. For the audience it is a revelatory, transcendent moment that crosses space and time as great cinema does. It grips you in an esoteric awareness: we are all human, we all live on the same earth. We all dance.

Go and see this film. It is one of the finest ever made in Australia. Besides a beautiful love story it will take you to places and connect with your heart like no other. It’s not perfect by any means (in terms of some improbabilities in the narrative) but this can be forgiven in the arc of the story telling. It is harrowing there is no doubt, but in the almost timeless ebb and flow of the film, in the communion with the infinite, something that defines human existence, this film stands above all else.

Dr Marcus Bunyan



Township in 'Samson and Delilah'

Marissa Gibson and Mitjili Napanangka Gibson in 'Samson and Delilah'


Marissa Gibson and Mitjili Napanangka Gibson


Rowan McNamara as Samson in 'Samson and Delilah'


Rowan McNamara as Samson


Rowan McNamara as Samson in 'Samson and Delilah'


Rowan McNamara as Samson



Samson and Delilah website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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