Opera Meets Film: How ‘Samson et Dalila’s’ Seduction Scene Creates Unification In ‘The Aftermath’

By Francisco Salazar

Opera Meets Film” is a feature dedicated to exploring the way that opera has been employed in cinema. We will select a section or a film in its entirety, highlighting the impact that utilizing the operatic form or sections from an opera can alter our perception of a film that we are viewing. This week’s installment features the Keira Knightley starrer “The Aftermath.”

“The Aftermath” is a film about a British colonel Lewis and his wife, Rachel who are assigned to live in Hamburg during the post-war reconstruction. But during their stay, tensions arise with the German Lubert, who previously owned the house. The film’s title has a double meaning as it is about reconstructing not only the country after a catastrophic war but also about reconstructing a family after the loss of a child.

During their stay in Germany, Rachel and Lewis’s relationship is on the fringe with the two unable to reconcile after their child was killed by a bomb. When Rachel first arrives she fears Lubert but slowly warms up to him as she realizes the similarities they have in common. The two suffered a loss during the war and slowly they get closer and begin an affair.

But after having sex with Lubert for the first time, Rachel remains hesitant about her relationship with him. She is still in love with husband but when Lewis announces he will be away for a few days, Rachel is angered about staying alone in the home. She feels especially guilt about her affair.

One evening as Lubert is in the attic working, he listens to a recording of “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from “Samson et Dalila.” During the scene, he turns the record player toward the hallway so the sound could exit into the entire home. Rachel is awakened by the sound, walks into the hallway, and begins to listen to the music.

The aria is an obvious choice as Lubert is attempting to seduce Rachel as Dalila does to Samson. But he’s doing more than that. He is utilizing music and its power as a means of bridging a divide between two people and two cultures. Music and its healing power play a major role throughout the film.

Take a look at a scene between Rachel and Lubert’s daughter Freda. Both play the piano. But Rachel is unable to play it after the death of her son, while Freda is unhappy with her circumstances as she has been relegated to a second class citizen and unhappy with Lewis and Morgan, whom she believes are intruders and villains.

In this crucial scene, Rachel and Freda are united through playing the piano. When Rachel is playing, Freda comes in and joins her and they begin to play in unison. Rachel recalls her son as she was teaching him while Freda recalls her mother. The sequence builds until Freda messes up the same place that Rachel’s son always messed up. But this allows both to understand their pain of loss and guilt and they reconcile. Freda speaks to Rachel in English for the first time and Rachel regains her strength to continue playing the piano and accepting the Luberts.

One might see the “Samson et Dalila” inclusion in the same vein. Like its title, the aria brings on a double meaning.  Lubert while trying to seduce Rachel attempts to soothe the atmosphere between the two and bring calm to the tense environment. An audience member not privy to the aria’s initial context would likely not think of the music as treasonous, but instead soothing and sublime. This is how the music works on the audience in this context, adding to the tension of the relationship between the two characters, but also emphasizing how they, and their warring cultures, are connected more than divided.

The irony in all this is that the aria itself is ultimately the vehicle of greater division and violence, adding to the nuance of its inclusion. But it also reminds us that music itself regardless of context, is the great unifier.


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