Native American Film Gems: Smoke Signals | Mike Sirota
Thomas Builds-the-Fire.2 Thomas recites this poem while Victor dra- matically scatters his father's . tensively analyzed how it explores the relationship between fatherhood I usually show Smoke Signals in an upper-division undergraduate class quote indicates, is delusional; it perfectly illustrates our national denial. The opening act closes when Victor and Thomas consult with their mother Victor associates fry bread with relationship building when he hugs his mom and . saying, “Mr. Johnson's wife Holly says he's, and I quote, 'a complete asshole. "Smoke Signals" is a storyteller's film, a film told from a storyteller, who The most important relation is the one between Victor and Thomas.
Then they plea-bargained that down to being an Indian in the twentieth century. Then he got two years in Walla-Walla. These stories demonstrate that Victor and Thomas and their environment are moving from a lifeless and hopeless state toward the hope of life.
Before the story ends, Thomas tells Victor another story about his father that reveals a more hopeful take both on Arnold and his environment. In this story, Thomas sits on a bridge in Spokane watching salmon run. The party is over now in the dream, and Victor sees his parents passed out fully clothed on their bed. He runs from the room, and we hear banging noises. The hopeless drugged state of the reservation is critiqued here, but in the context both of one solution—getting rid of the alcohol—and a more natural alternative—a return to the life-filled river.
The return to the river is metaphorical, but it also signifies a return to life, following a narrative of environmental adaptation that facilitates transforming a lifeless environment into a home. Thomas begins by saying the cowboys always win, and lists a few, from Tom Mix to John Wayne. Here the landscape tells their story through the windows of the bus where red rocky hills line the road toward Phoenix, emphasizing the hardships that must be faced on their journey.
The walk from Phoenix to Mars, Arizona, provides one of these challenges. The story again reinforces the need to work collectively to adapt to a sometimes-hostile environment. To Thomas, the connection between human and nonhuman nature drives their departure: Instead of leaving the scene and avoiding a confrontation with police, Victor helps an injured girl from the accident, running all the way to the town hospital for assistance.
Even when questioned by the police before leaving the hospital, Thomas and Victor transform an expected altercation into a ride home. The fire and ride in the police car help Victor bring life to the reservation, as he brings back his father to his mother and home. Victor shares some of the ashes with Thomas after thanking him for his help. The ashes look like magic dust as they float toward the water.
"Smoke Signals," p. 3
Once the ashes reach the water, they race downstream like salmon. Victor grew up with disdain for his people. He rejected much of his heritage because his people did not live up to it. He has even openly rejected his own family.
Seeing the drinking and irresponsibility around him, he could say only that he had no favorite Indians — not even his own mother. He lives in the concrete world of bald facts, a world where evidence abounds that people hurt you and take advantage of you. It is, to Victor, out of touch and irrelevant, a relic of the past. In a word, nerdy. About the only thing Victor has taken from his heritage is the idea of being a warrior, which Victor needs as a bit of practical self-protection.
Does he hate you?
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Thomas saying it this way is merely making visible the pain and struggle that was already going on inside Victor. When the responsibility is laid on Victor to retrieve his father's remains and get the benefit of a pickup truck in the processit turns out that Victor is bankrupt: Victor is also emotionally bankrupt, though he doesn't realize it.
His world is a self-centered one; his attitude toward others is characterized by his remark on the basketball court: Victor's heritage has a score to settle with him. He must either endure having Thomas-cum-heritage on the trip or abandon his responsibility, becoming part of the failed heritage he despises. At first, he's too proud to take even the financial help. Once he accepts that, he is quick to place heavy restrictions on Thomas. Maybe he must have his heritage go with him, but he'll do his best to constrain and contain it.
I've hardly given a thought to my own heritage. I don't mean the spiritual and mystic like Indian heritage — although that might be interesting, too — I'm thinking simply of the extended family that I know. I'm wondering if I've come to terms with what my family is and has been. I think I'm like Victor as he starts out: I haven't fully faced all of the dysfunction and come to love my people, in spite of their weaknesses, as the beautiful creations that they are.
Throughout most of the journey, Victor sees Thomas as just a nerd. He has no patience for Thomas' "oral tradition" — repeatedly calling his stories lies. He tries to reform Thomas in his manner and in his appearance, to remake him in Victor's warrior image — even though this image has lies of its own, seeing as how the Coeur d'Alene were fishermen, not brave and stoic hunters. At Suzy Song's place, Victor wants to leave immediately after retrieving his father's ashes though he will not even touch the tin they are in.
Thomas had earlier agreed in principle to a quick departure, but he's hungry now. His heritage has got Victor to a sort of ground zero, and he's going to make sure he hangs around long enough to face the past.
After enduring the plague of Thomas' stories, Victor now receives the affliction of "song" — his personal heritage delivered via Suzy Song, who knows Victor's own past.
Victor has been sitting on the sidelines of the story telling, so Suzy asks Thomas if he wants to hear the truth or the lies.
When he says he wants both, Thomas is not saying he wants fiction for the sake of a good story, he is saying he wants fiction that embodies the truth. To Victor this is a logical impossibility: Having grown to hate things Indian, he can see only the lies, not the truth in them. After dinner, Victor and Suzy face off. When she tells Arnold's basketball story to Victor, all he can say is that his father lied.
Native American Film Gems: Smoke Signals
What he can't see is that, whether or not Arnold intentionally changed the end of the story, the new version carries a much deeper truth about his father's love for him. Victor had assumed — and reasonably so, from Victor's point of view — that his father left because he didn't care, yet here is contradictory data that says something else was going on with his father below the surface.
But Victor is not ready to hear it. Suzy presses Victor, pressing on him that he needs to face up: He needs to go into Arnold's trailer to see what's there, to see what he might salvage from the ashes of his father's life. Victor needs to confront and resolve the issue of his father's life, but he won't do it.
To avoid it, Victor is willing to make a liar of himself by going back on the bet he made with Suzy. I'm like Victor here: I want to hold on tightly to the pain that others have caused me. I've called the foul, now let it be a foul. I want to be able to villify them without the complication of conflicting data that says maybe they were doing something that they themselves did not understand. Maybe their offense came from their weakness and confusion, not from an intentional pursuit of selfish aims.
Maybe they even cared about me after all. Suzy then tells Victor his father's blackest secret: He started the fire that killed Thomas' parents. Hearing about the fire, hearing about Arnold going back into the fire for Victor even though Victor was not in the houseand beginning to understand the pain his father lived with, Victor softens. He goes to the trailer. He faces the stench left by his father's life. Making his way through it, he comes to the heart of his father's life: A picture in his wallet of Arnold, Arlene, and Victor, and on the back, the single word, "home.
He sees there was a deeper story underneath. He sees the pain his father had lived with. He gains a measure of compassion for his father, and he now can mourn his father's death.
He takes his father's knife to his own hair. He thinks "the ceremony [is] over.Smoke Signals - 100 indians & only 50 pieces of frybread
He hasn't faced himself. Even though Victor has seen that his father wasn't as bad as he thought, he's still running. He has not yet seen that he himself is much worse than he thinks. He's been so busy calling fouls on those around him that he's not looked at the fouls he has been committing. He leaves Suzy's place without saying goodbye. Thomas picks up again with his stories, and then he directly confronts Victor, capping it with, "You make your mother cry All I know is that when your father left, your mother lost you, too.
The physical wreck on the road becomes the occasion for Victor's physical runnning that embodies his emotional running.
Smoke Signals Quotes
He starts running to save the girl in the wreck, but it turns out he's running to save himself. As he runs, all of what his experience on the trip comes together, and the physical pain and the emotional pain become the fire that burns Victor to the ground.
And for Victor, it is his father that raises him from the ashes.