In the movie, Smoke Signals, two men from the Coeur d Alene Indian Reservation, take a journey to Arizona. The trip turns into a philosophical journey as much as a physical one, encountering odd ball characters and discovering poetic messages at the end of the road. The main characters, Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire have known each other since childhood, they are not exactly friends but share a special link. On July 1976, Victor s father, Arnold Joseph, accidentally sets fire to a house killing everyone inside except manages to save Thomas and his son.?
Thomas, who has become a true believer in spirits, narrates the movie. He waits patiently for visions and enjoys stories of both fact and fiction. Yet, he is also a bit of a nerd who spends too much time watching Indians on television and Dances with Wolves over and over again to understand the meaning of being an Indian. Nevertheless, Thomas who was raised by his grandmother continues to worship Arnold even though Arnold left the reservation for a life in Phoenix when Thomas and Victor were only 12 years old.
Victor seems to be full of hostility toward his father for abandoning him and his mother, Arlene. The boy hood scenes of Victor and Arnold show a man who loves his son dearly but who is also clearly possessed by his own demons. One minute Arnold is happily telling stories to his son, drinking his beer as they drive home, the next he s slapping Victor s head for knocking over the bottle. Victor responds by alternately showing love and rage for his confused and violent father.? Now in his twenties, Victor is a quiet young man, still as a rock.
After Arlene receives a call from Phoenix from her ex-husband s friend Suzy Song, informing her that Arnold has passed away, Victor is sent to retrieve the possessions of this man who has caused him such pain. Thomas winds up tagging along for the ride, since he s got the money to get the two of them most the way from Idaho to Arnold s trailer in Arizona.? When they first start their journey they run into two native girls driving backwards in their car. (I feel represents the direction of the Indian culture is heading backward).
They pass the local meteorologist / reporter who sits on a deserted intersection broadcasting the rez s happenings for KREZ, the local radio station. The guy is on the top of a van reporting on who goes by and weather they are likely going to be late for work His weather forecasts consist of what he thinks the clouds look like. When the girls go as far as they could with the boys, they ask them if they have they have their passports because it is another world outside the rez.? Along the way, Thomas and Victor teach each other life lessons.
Thomas, through his storytelling shows Victor that there s more to life than cynicism and pent-up anger. Victor, in turn, lets Thomas know what it means to be a real Indian. In my favorite scene, Victor has these words of advice, Indians aren t supposed to smile, Thomas, get stoic. If you don t look mean, white people won t respect you. This shows the inside struggle Victor faces about being an Indian in a white man s world. A few scenes later, when two obnoxious white men sit in their seats, Victor and Thomas don t fight them but retire to the back of the bus.
Thomas then states Victor, I guess my new look didn t work, huh? They then engage in warfare by singing a rude anthem devoted to John Wayne s teeth.? The boy s finally get to Arnolds small trailer in Phoenix. They meet Suzy Song, who was a dear friend of Arnold s before he died. According to her they kept each other s secrets . She becomes a catalyst for Victor and no dead father. She tells him the stories of how his father did love him and all the found memories he had. She convinces Victor to go into his trailer to be with him, reluctantly he does.
After searching through his father s possessions, Victor finds his father s wallet with a picture. The picture was of Victor and his parents with the word home inscribed in the back. Symbolically, Victor cut his hair as his father did after the fire. This represented the first process of letting go of the anger. ?For Thomas, the trip from Idaho to Arizona means an opportunity to come to grips with his ancestry. For Victor, it s a change to forgive his estranged father in death. For me, it offers the prospect of seeing beyond the stereotypes and realizing that all cultures seem to have the same internal struggles.