Filial Love versus Romantic Love.
Though most of the initial and conscious sentiments go to Sam and Teuila because of an unconsummated marriage and tragic ending, some extant thematic issues stay adrift in the ominous ocean of Tautoga Gausia. Their ambiguous and intricate nature incites more questions than there are answers. Questions such as these: Are parents being criticized and reprimanded in the movie? Did Sam commit honor suicide? How much, if any, do the children owe their parents? Does the "new freedom"- according to Tafu’e - for a daughter to choose a suitor include choosing a religion in which to get married, or is the religion issue decided and settled solely by the parents and the aiga?
In light of these issues, it appears that Tautoga puts the parents - more than the children - on the proverbial stand for both cross-examination and self-examination. For a good portion of the movie, the underlying pitting of family against family and parents against children in their socio-religious roles, decisions and obligations are evident.
Sam and Filemoni do not have a close relationship. A battle of wills exists between them and Sam’s overall lack of affection for his parents makes him a less than obedient child, especially compared to Teuila’s obedience and close relationship with her parents. While Sam argues with his parents, especially his dad, Teuila is a model child (teine lelei) who quietly submits to the wishes of her parents. The relationship seems ideal based on understanding, mutuality and respect. And although she falls in love with Sam, she still maintains strong ties and love for her parents -again, unlike Sam.
Ironically, Tautoga uses Teuila as a messenger of filial love, more than romantic love, which she considers and advertizes as "Soft Love". The petition for - and sometimes imposition of - filial love is rather common among Samoan parents especially those who use the Biblical fifth commandment as basis, as well as justification, for absolute obedience and even ludicrous demands - bordering on force and compulsion - on/of their children. For most families these demands often create tension and subsequently drive wedges into family relationships.
The parent-child discord is depicted in the switching shots that contrast Filemoni working arduously in his plantation while Sam is having a fun time at the swimming pool with his friends and waiting for his girlfriend. The comparative scenes represent a common notion for parents’ accusations and complaints for cold-hearted children. Filemoni voices a common rebuke in an aside while taking a break. Sam who withdraws and sequesters himself from his real parents is a guilty party in all this. In the scenes, Filemoni certainly gets the sympathy of the viewers and typical Samoan parents can identify with the complaint and the fatuaiga (family sustenance) comment that impugns untrustworthy and disloyal children.
Tautoga further entreats for support of paternal sentiments and for filial love through the Western Union remittance scene. A remittance represents, in most cases, a definite demonstration of filial love by children living away from home. Apparently the money is not from Sam and therefore serves as a further smear on his disloyal child disposition. Also, the fact that Sam does not live far from his parents on the same island and never - according to Filemoni - goes to visit or help, does not help his case either. Sam’s disputative and arrogant assurance to his father that he is not counting on anyone to help out with the wedding, as well as his seeking the counsel of others (Tise?) and not of his parents also attest to the discordant relationship.
The above trend and pattern in the movie’s depiction of Sam therefore cast him in disfavor with some Samoan parents. And though some viewers have empathy for him, especially in death, others may feel unsympathetic and may even pass malicious judgment on his fate as poetic justice. On a more compassionate level, some may see Sam’s untimely death as an extreme remorseful and self-redeeming act, though rationalizing suicide at the same time. Still others may cite the reverse literal fulfillment of the promise in the fifth commandment. Simply, Sam’s "days [are not] long upon the land" for not honoring his father and mother and lacking filial love.
As a subtle yet stark contrast to the loftiness of filial love, romantic love is depicted as inferior, fickle and soft. Teuila’s own affirmation of their love as infatuated and soft is painted befittingly as "Soft Love" on her shirt during the prearranged picnic at the beach. Further, Sam, oblivious to the notion and concept, writes the evanescent "I love Teuila" on the porous, soft and impermanent sand at the beach. Perhaps the climactic representation of the fleeting nature of romantic love is symbolized in the simulated marriage. The irony in all this is the immediate annulment of the "marriage" not by any other reason but by death, as affirmed by the typical declaration "til death do us part".