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Movie Review: Samson, the new biblical epic

“Samson, my good man, I have one word for you: celibacy.”

That was the first thought that came to mind when watching the movie Samson, an adaptation from the Old Testament Book of Judges.

The quality of Christian movies has improved leaps and bounds in recent years. Samson, produced by Pure Flix and Boomtown, directed by Bruce Macdonald and Gabriel Sabloff, claims to go “epic” and fulfills its promise. This story of a man of supernatural strength remains faithful to the original story, while skillfully filling in the gaps.

Samson was chosen while in his mother’s womb to lead the Hebrews who had once again incurred God’s wrath because of their evil ways. They were delivered into the hands of the Philistines for 40 years. Samson was to take the three Nazarite oaths: no shaving of hair, no drinking of wine, and no touching of the dead. As long as he kept his oaths, Samson is promised extraordinary strength — and that is exactly what he gets.

He grows up to be a strong and handsome man who is also aware of the allure of his physical appearance and fame, finding himself often in the company of beautiful young women. The movie portrays him as a flighty youth who does not concern himself with serious matters like the Philistines’ oppression of the Hebrews. At least, he is not concerned enough to claim the judgeship that was foretold before his birth.

When he falls in love with a Philistine, despite his parents’ objections, he decides to take Taren as his wife. The Philistine Prince, an ambitious, blood and power thirsty man, agrees to the marriage in order to gain political grounding, but when the hubris of Prince Rallah and Samson clash, this time, Samson loses all in a game of riddles. That is only the beginning of his troubles as he breaks the oaths he made to God.

Finally, he accepts to be anointed as the judge, but still is not willing to fight to free the Hebrews from starvation and oppression. But Prince Rallah does not forget the man whose strength had slew a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass. The prince sends his beautiful wife Delilah to seduce him. It is not shock to the viewer that she succeeds and leads Samson to his downfall. In the Bible, his surrender is recounted. “When she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death.”

The movie exceeded my expectations in regard to acting, special effects and costumes. Taylor James gives a convincing performance as Samson, even though his flirtatious looks with the ladies require a little more work. Besides James, Billy Zane as King Balek and Lindsay Wagner as Samson’s mother stood out as superb actors. Caitlin Leahy as Delilah also delivered a commendable performance. The special effects, little that they are, were well done without going overboard. Attention to detail and accuracy in costumes also made the story come alive.

A faithful adaptation from the Scriptures is arduous, since the creators and directors need to take a short four-chapter story and stretch into an enjoyable experience where the authenticity of the biblical account is preserved. This movie accomplishes the task of ripping the suffering of the Israelites and the failures of Samson from the pages to create a relatable character and a believable story. It is rated PG-13 with scenes of violence, but the writers managed to avoid the more suggestive parts of Samson’s exploits.

As far as movie-viewing experience goes, Samson is on par with The Case for Christ. In order to encourage such efforts, I believe, we need to support these movies. But the other —and more important— reason for anyone to see this movie is that Samson is an archetype for the Church.

Once the eye-rolling about Samson’s romantic pursuits stopped, I realized that the arrogant and sinful man who refused God’s calling time and again still triumphed over his enemies. Because the Lord keeps His promises, unlike Samson, and very often unlike us. We may wander off, stray away and even outright disobey, but Christ had promised that His Church will stand. After all, how can one explain that the Catholic Church is still standing despite heresies, invasions, or less than ideal leadership? Because Christ keeps his promises.

Of course, in Samson’s arrogance and sin, I also saw myself. My eyes still covet, my tongue is still unruly and my heart is still disobedient. But when I call upon the Lord in the confessional or before the Holy Eucharist, He always forgives. Again and again.

Read chapters 13 to 16 of the Book of Judges to find out how this superhero judge of the Israelites is immortalised within the pages of the Bible, and go see the movie to once again know that “there is nothing new under the sun” and the King of the Universe is forever faithful. – Derya Little, Catholic Herald

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