Samson and Delialah Response Paper 1

April 18, 2012

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.


The Last Temptation of Christ – Lauren Roerden

April 18, 2012

Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of the controversial 1953 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis was really very interesting.   I liked how Scorsese chose to take a risk by taking on the project of adapting a film version to Kazantzakis’s novel, but what I enjoyed about the film was that the Jesus character in this film was more relatable.  I felt that Willem Defoe portrayed a different kind of Jesus in this film where as in previous films the Jesus characters were more similar to eachother. I also really enjoyed how the audience was able to see things from Jesus’s point of view.  From the beginning Scorsese makes it known that the film avoids the familiar words of the gospel.  He includes a kind of disclaimer within the opening credits that reads “This film is not based upon the Gospels but upon this fictional exploration of the eternal spiritual conflict” (1:12).  I thought that it was a wise choice to include this statement within the opening sequence in order to make the audience aware that although this film does follow a typical Jesus story kind of plot it is meant to explore this “spiritual” conflict and the eternal battle that every individual struggles with when faced with temptation.  I also felt it was important to include this disclaimer because Kazantzakis’s novel was very controversial and undertaking a film adaptation of it was risky due to the fact that it will be controversial as well; by including this disclaimer in the beginning it helps the audience understand that it is not meant to offend the religion but to explore this notion of eternal and spiritual conflict.  The sex scene that takes place between Willem Defoe (Jesus) and Barbara Hershey (Mary Magdalene) would be the most obvious example of the controversiality of the film.  We discover as a result of Jesus suffering on the cross he hallucinates and this scene is just a figment of his imagination (Part II 46:59).   In our class discussion we had discussed who we are in relation to the film and that is what I really enjoyed about the film. I like how the audience is able to relate Jesus in the film rather than in previous films where the audience related to Judas or one of the disciples. We hear what he is thinking and we can relate to the struggle he experiences when he realizes that he has the realization that he has a specific purpose to carry out.  From the opening scene of the film the camera is up at tree level panning/tracking through the trees until it stops and Jesus is in view.  As first the camera is right above the sleeping Jesus and then it comes down to an angle where it would appear that we are standing right  above him.  It is as if we are silently following Jesus throughout the film and watching his journey.  What makes the audience relate to the character of Jesus in the film is the insight that we gain to his inner thoughts and feelings.  The beginning of the film also provides an example of this at 2:54 we hear Jesus describing the sensation of this divine possession; he speaks of the voices in his head that call him by name and how it begins to cause him pain as if these thoughts are clawing at him within his head.  We already begin to see Jesus struggles and the eternal conflict within him begin to set in.  At 4:38 when Jesus is visited in his hut Willem Defoe has a sad and somber look on his face in this scene.  His facial expressions are sad looking, his eyes are dull, and his body is hunched over.  This conveys that the eternal conflict is affecting him and beginning to take a physical toll on him as well.  By portraying Jesus in this way it makes his experience more relatable to the audience; relatable in the sense that at points everyone has experienced moments of eternal conflict that has had both emotional and physical effects.  At 5:46 we see this eternal battle begin to come to the surface as tears well up in Jesus’s eyes and these early moments in the film make the audience aware of this struggle and conflict that is occuring inside the mind of Jesus.  These early moments also what makes the audience relate to Jesus because we are able to relate to feeling confused, lost, and sad.  What is interesting about this film is Jesus’s insecurity in certain matters, for example when Jesus speaks to the people on top a hill after saving a young woman from being stoned to death.  As he leads the crowd up the hill and gets ready to address them we hear what he is thinking.  Before he speaks to the people he says to himself “God has so many miracles.  What if I say the wrong thing? What if I say the right thing?” (36:40) In other films Jesus always seems to sure and confident and that line that he thinks right before he speaks again makes his character more relatable.  By expressing some uncertainities that he may have gives him a more human quality.  In other films Jesus is portrayed in a super-natural kind of way; he is always sure and confident with unfaltering faith.  This insecure and uncertain Jesus that Willem Defoe portrays atop the hill allows the audience to connect more with the character and it makes it easier to for the audience to empathize with Jesus’s characeter.

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