Samson and Delilah
The story of Samson and Delilah, as relayed in the Bible, has always been a powerful and compelling story. In so much as it deals with power, lust, strength and redemption speaks a great deal to the human spirit as well as to the spiritual and moral corruption found in the pleasures of the flesh. As to the nature of the tale and how it should be viewed, there are a number of interpretations. Clearly, the grace and forgiveness of God are probably the most salient aspects of the tale. However, given the intentions of the reader, there are any number of themes that could be isolated. However, some are more defensible than others. For while it is true that Samson’s strength, for instance, is very much like a super hero, and thus could be highlighted, there are other aspects of the story that lend themselves to a thin interpretation. In particular, if one were to focus on, say, some love affair between Samson and the, as the Bible describes her, harlot Delilah, then this would be adding a great deal to the story that is simply absent. And yet, one of the more popular themes is the one that is the least present; namely that of this ‘love’ between to the two. One particular depiction of this is seen in the film Samson and Delilah, the 1949 production from Cecil B. DeMille. One scene in particular captures the main interpretative theme of this, which is during Samson’s captivity by the Philistines. Here in this paper, there will be an exploration of DeMille’s interpretation of this relationship and how this reflects his, perhaps not personal view but that which is expressed in the film, his vision of the story of Samson and Delilah.
Traditionally, the story of Samson and Delilah, which comes directly from the Old Testament in the Bible, is the story of a powerful warrior from the Hebrew nation that stands against the occupying army of the Philistines, that seek to enslave the Hebrew people. As a child, Samson is viewed as special. For God tells his parents that he will be a mighty champion for the Hebrew people. The only condition is that he can not drink any wine or alcohol and his hair must never be cut. In essence, he takes a Nazirite vow, as to set him apart from all the other Hebrews as someone special. This special pact that is made between God and Samson is held throughout his youth.
The first signs of his strength are demonstrated when after receiving a wife from among the Philistines, in an attempt to garner peace between the two peoples, there is a fight. For the family of the girl that Samson has chosen resents the fact that he is Hebrew. As a result, they seek to attack him and take the girl back. But in the fight his strength is revealed and he manages to kill many Philistines. However, the girl is still taken. And so, Samson’s mission is clear, to be a warrior for God as to fight against the Philistines. And with his unnatural strength he is able to battle, single-handedly, hundreds of Philistines at a time.
However, seeing him as a threat the Philistines recognize the significant threat and so devise a plan to capture him. They take into their confidence a harlot named Delilah, with whom Samson is smitten. And so Delilah agrees to help the Philistines capture him. Unfortunate for the warrior of God, Samson is taken into custody by the Philistines, beaten, his eyes gouged out and his hair cut. His strength, which is in the length of his hair, leaves him and he is rendered helpless and at the mercy of his enemies. However, while in prison, his hair grows back and so too his strength; while his captors are oblivious to this. They take him to their temple as to display their prize to the Philistine people and in honor of their god Dagon. However, Samson, as a last feat, tears down the temple killing more in his death than he ever had in his life.
The story seems to be clear and concise, as a warning against disobeying God and avoiding the lusts of the flesh. However, movie producer Cecil B. DeMille felt differently. He saw in the story a tale of love between Samson and Delilah that is not conspicuously, or arguably even mentioned, in the Biblical account. The movie itself, while detailing much of what is relayed in the Bible, in many respects is accurate as to the original tale. For, the events of his life are presented. However, one event in particular seemed to suggest that there was more than mere lust in the heart of Samson. For, the scene where Samson is in prison, blind and seemingly helpless, is visited by Delilah, an event that is not recorded in the Bible. Furthermore, she explains that the two can run away together and they must go immediately before the prison guards come to take him to his doom. However, he explains that, “I was blind before and now I can see (Samson and Delilah).” Ultimately, DeMille’s interpretation of the story suggests that Samson has not merely lusted after the attractive harlot, but has fallen in love with her.
The love is suggested in other scenes where the two are together in her tent. They talk and share moments with one another. And of course he shares more than he should as to the nature of his strength. However, as to Delilah’s true feelings, no one can really be certain. Most, after reading the Biblical account, simply assume that Delilah was merely using Samson as to do the bidding of the Philistines and receive some recompense for her deed. However, in DeMille’s film, there is a sense that she is conflicted. Indeed, the idea that she is feeling threatened by Philistine aggression suggests that she is in fear for her life, and not merely seeking material gain. In fact, her genuine feelings for Samson is reinforced by the fact she is visiting him in prison. This act demonstrates she is willing to risk her life. In one part of the scene, she willingly puts herself in harm’s way by touching Samson and is in genuine danger when Samson picks her up and aims her body at the ground, ready to break her physically. It is at this point she screams out, “Samson, your chains! They are broken! You have your strength back (Samson and Delilah)!” There is an almost Romeo and Juliet theme of unrequited, or impossible love that endures in spite of specific social and political situations. And so, DeMille’s interpretation of the Biblical story of Samson and his relationship with Delilah is one of true love, and not mere Hebrew heroism, holy redemption, or even God’s grace imparted to Samson.
In conclusion, the movie Samson and Delilah, as a retelling of the story in the Bible, is one of true love and not one of God’s redemption and grace in virtue of His people. This is not to say that these themes are not present in the film. Indeed, they are impossible to avoid. And while DeMille is clearly conscious of these aspects of the Biblical message of repentance and holiness, his view that the love of two people can survive even in the midst of inevitable and fatalistic events is established. Specifically in the scene of Samson’s imprisonment where his beloved comes to express her love and hope for a life together, although Samson makes it clear his commitment to his God and his people, there is a brief and subtle, but nonetheless undeniable, demonstration of Samson’s true love for Delilah. And so, DeMille’s interpretation of the story of Samson and Delilah, whether supported by tradition or scripture, is one of enduring and eternal love in spite of circumstance and outcome.
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Aboriginal teenagers Samson and Delilah live in an isolated community outside Alice Springs, about 1,500 kms south of Darwin. Delilah spends her days caring for and painting with her Nana, Samson is a chronic petrol sniffer who has cast his eyes on Delilah.
When Delilah is blamed by community women for her Nana’s death and violence intervenes in the teenagers’ lives, they steal a communal car and head for Alice Springs, a place no safer than their community.
They shelter under a bridge in the town’s dry river bed and Samson’s sniffing and isolation worsen. Delilah is traumatised by two terrible events and their future seems bleak.
As they discover how harsh life can be for a pair of homeless kids, they also fall in love.
Samson & Delilah resonates with truth and will open the eyes of all those who mistakenly believe the hard-won apology given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made life better for the first inhabitants.
It's my life—everything in that film I've seen and I wanted to show the world what Alice Springs is like. It has the most beautiful angels and the most evil devils.—Warwick Thornton, director of Samson & Delilah
Making Samson & Delilah
Don’t miss the Making of Samson and Delilah, a documentary by Beck Cole.
Australian cinema is never going to be the same.—At The Movies program
The best love film we've seen for many a year.—Cannes jury member Isabelle Adjani
Samson and Delilah is a powerfully confronting film which presents the complexities and realities of everyday life for many young Indigenous people.—Scott Wilson, Chairman, Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation
Hopefully [Samson & Delilah] will serve as a wake up call to the continuing apathy displayed by the dominant culture in this country toward the plight of disadvantaged Aborigines. —review on TwoFlatWhites.com
This groundbreaking, moving film brings [a reality] to the many Australians who don't have a clue just how tough life must be for Indigenous Australians. —review on Cinephilia
It's a remarkable achievement in cinema and steps beyond what most filmmakers are trying to achieve. —Aden Young, actor