After losing the love of his life to a cruel Philistine prince, a young Hebrew with Supernatural strength defends his people, sacrificing everything to avenge his love, his people, and his God.
It’s a dark time in the nation of Israel, and the book of Judges (which is arguably the goriest and most horrific of all biblical books), tells the story of Israel’s downward spiral into chaos after the death of their previous leaders, Moses and Joshua.For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Samson, I’d highly recommend a good read-through if you’re wondering what you can expect. Concerning content, the movie does a great job of bringing to life the visual action you’ll find in the story. Dove can give the movie the seal of approval, but only for 12+ due to the amount of violence. There is a reason why this Hercules-style judge of Israel is getting his own movie; his life was crazy. For filmmakers eager to make an action movie, Samson comes to them on a silver platter. This guy kills a lion with his bare hands and takes out 1,000 Philistine soldiers with the jawbone of a donkey? What an epic hero! Sign me up! But maybe there’s more to critically think through when it comes to a film like Samson than a mere analytical look at the amount of violence we find or whether or not there was language or nudity (and for the record, it’s clean in those latter categories). After all, we’re telling the story which many people believe to be true, so the question is, are we doing it justice? And if not, what was our reasoning? Did we take an appropriate amount of creative liberty, or did we mess something up that was actually really important? To both the faithful readers and the avid movie-goers alike who value these biblical narratives, it’s important that we think critically about these stories. Why are they in the Bible? What is the author of Judges trying to communicate to his or her audience by presenting us with them? What’s the point of this story and the lives of these characters? Only when we wrestle with these questions can we then come to sound conclusions about the content. While the movie scratches that 21st century itch we all have to see books come to life on screen, complete with jawbone action and lion-riddled tension, it does seem to drop the ball in a few key areas. The first, and perhaps most insignificant area is that of production. The movie comes to you complete with cheesy dialogue and sub-par acting, but if that doesn’t bother you, it might prove to be a fun ride. If you’re not the overly critical type, enjoy! More importantly, however, it’s significant to note a fundamental point of deviance between the story found in Scripture and the one found on-screen. Perhaps it won’t bother you, but as consumers of entertainment (and in this case, entertainment inspired by the Bible), I think it’s important we think through it. The issue concerns that of seeing Samson as an epic hero. In this 2018 rendering of the Samson tale, directed by Bruce Macdonald and Gabriel Sabloff, Samson is, without a doubt, the hero we’ve been looking for. Ethnicity casting debates aside, Taylor James, who plays Samson, brings to life a character of charming smiles, deep courage, committed love, and godly strength. Sure he has a few moments of weakness, but by the end of the movie, you’re absolutely cheering for Samson. But is this what the author of Judges wants us to do? As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to critically think about these stories. The question remains: What is the Bible trying to communicate to us in telling us the story of Samson? Is he really the hero we’ve been looking for? Unfortunately, it is precisely that spirit of epic heroism that somewhat overshadows the true, but perhaps unpopular spirit in which the Samson tale is told in Scripture. After all, we want to watch movies about heroes, right? So what do we do when the Bible gives us a hero, but proceeds to tell us with a stroke of brilliance that he actually, in all reality, wasn’t that great of a guy, and we’re to keep hoping for someone better? Or better yet – what do you do as a filmmaker if your “hero” is painfully flawed, living life with very questionable motives because the whole story is about a time in Israel’s history of moral laxity? Well there’s a really easy option, and unfortunately, it’s the one they took when making this film: beef up the heroism of Samson, and ignore the darker side of the story. Because the narrative of Samson is riveting – the perfect sort of story to jump from page to screen – the temptation to create a film that maximizes that excitement can sometimes lead to a tragic misrepresentation. So in a nutshell, here you go: the movie is an exciting adventure story and, let’s face it, it’s exciting in any case to see biblical stories come to life on screen. Bible readers world-wide ought to celebrate the fact that content which they value as sacred is being given a shot on the big screen. With that spirit, I think we can all enjoy the film and draw inspiration from the Samson hero who is portrayed as relying heavily upon God. He overcomes his obstacles and in the end, God manifests His presence through Samson in a way that’s inspiring for a family movie night. However, be warned. Entertainment is not the end goal. The film rendering is not Scripture, and the message being communicated in the film is quite different from the one being offered in the Bible. The text wants you to question Samson at every turn and ask if he’s truly being obedient to God (and ultimately whet your appetite for a hero way better than Samson), whereas the film wants you to sympathize and cheer him on as he fights the epic fight. Consume both, and think critically about them. May this movie spark robust and inspiring conversation in your homes about what it means to make art as Christians, and what we think about interpreting the stories we hold so dear.