Thursday, February 22, 2018

"Samson": new film of famous Bible story downplays the potential fetishism of the story, and emphasizes the brutal political tribalism of the time

The Biblical film “Samson” from Sony-PureFlix and director Bruce Macdonald renders one of the most curious stories in the Old Testament, at the end of the period of the Judges before the house of David would be formed.

Samson (Taylor James), born into the Tribe of Dan, and his brother (Rutger Hauer) have long been resisting the Philistines under King Balek (Billy Zane) and the hothead prince Rallah (Jackson Rathborn). Samson is known for his phenomenal, almost supernatural physical strength, rather like a super-hero. He believes it comes from God and from a supposed teaching that he must never cut his long hair.

The plot is complicated by an early marriage, but we all remember from Sunday school the more spectacular parts of the story.  Samson falls in love with Delilah, who brings him down, eventually cutting his hair.  That is, not until Samson carries a temple door out on his back. After a home invasion by the Philistines Samson, suddenly weak,  is captured, tortured and blinded (with some pretty brutal violence for kids to see).  But when the hair grows back, the strength returns, and Samson brings down the entire temple.

The story of Samson has always sounded like a proxy for fetishism. In the movie, Samson is tall, and has conspicuously hairy arms and legs, but no chest hair.  It’s easy to imagine the idea that chest hair could have been the marker for testosterone and strength, rather than long scalp hair.  That gets into the entire body shaming fetish that used to be somewhat common in the gay male community (it is less so today).  Likewise, when people go into the Army, it’s usually only scalp hair (which women can have) that gets the buzzcut.  And this is more likely to matter for Caucasians than other races.
The film plays up the tribal values of Jewish society a millennium before Christ.  It would fit into today’s debates on tribalism.  The film also makes the villages and cities in the ancient world look interesting.  The acting seems overwrought. The prince Rallah seems spoiled, like Kim Jong Un.

The film was shot in the Capetown, South Africa area.
Here is the official site for the film. 
Wikipedia attribution link for public domain painting of Samson by Lovis Corinth. 

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