Posted: October 17th, 2013
The movie Smoke Signal was produced and released in 1998 by director Chris Eyre. It was based on a short story from a book titled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie. It is one among many feature films written, directed and produced by Native Americans. Some of its lead actors include Adam Beach, Evan Adams and Gary Farmer. The genre of the movie is comedy, and it highlights various themes although in a humorous manner.
The movie is set in Arizona, and its plot revolves around two teenage Indian boys on a journey and their peculiar relationship. Victor is the son of an alcoholic man who later abandoned him and his mother while Thomas is his neighbor, saved from a fire that killed his parents by victor’s father. Their differences arise from their conflicting opinions of victor’s father. While Thomas considers him to be a hero, Victor’s feelings are negative based on his father’s alcoholism and abandonment. When Victor learns of his father’s death, he and Thomas set out on a journey to recover his ashes. Along the way, their proximity eventually helps them to learn more about the world and themselves and ease the tension existing between them.
The key elements of the film are brought out through its themes and creativity. These themes offer a glimpse into what exactly the writer of the story was trying to communicate to his readers. One of them is the life of Indians living in reservations. These were settlements allocated to Indians whose main occupation is farming by the American government. Another one is the relationship between parents and their children. The creativity is superb, especially in the way the film uses real Indian actors to act as Indians and the fact that the movie was actually shot in a reservation. These according to me are the strengths of the movie because they offer certain originality to it.
Alot in the movie is influenced by the life experiences of the writer of the story. We can see him reflect his experience through some characters in the film. The writer spent most of his life in a reservation and had an abusive relationship with his father, just like Victor. As a family, they suffered economic hardships like most other people in the reservation. Growing up, he was a sickly child who sought solace and identity in books, which is what, ultimately inspired him to be a writer. This situation is almost synonymous to that of Thomas who, orphaned at a young age and tells stories to pass time and connect with others. Just like the writer, most of the people in the movie are plagued by poverty, something that almost hinders Victor from traveling to phoenix to retrieve his father’s ashes.
I think the movie delivers satisfactorily. Although not produced on a large budget, the locations are original, and the choice of actors was perfect. This is not just because of their Indian background but also their acting prowess as brought out in the way they instantly connect with the viewer and bring out its message in an honest manner. A biographical context is also depicted in the movie, which was also well received by Native American audiences. This is seen in the writer’s relation to reservations, having lived there previously. The director of the film did a good job in ensuring aspects such as mood and tone were well brought out. As a feature film, it is helpful in providing a deeper understanding of the Indian culture by giving a preview of how their lives are in reservations.
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