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Young Indian man Thomas is a nerd in his reservation, wearing oversize glasses and telling everyone stories no-one wants to hear. His parents died in a fire in 1976, and Thomas was saved by Arnold. Arnold soon left his family (and his tough son Victor), and Victor hasn't seen his father for 10 years. When Victor hears Arnold has died, Thomas offers him funding for the trip to get Arnold's remains, but only if Thomas will also go with him. Thomas and Victor hit the road. Written by
The song "All My Relations" performed by Ulali at the end of the film uses the traditional Irish tune "Garryowen". The tune was a favorite of Acting-General George Armstrong Custer during the Civil War, and became the official air of the US 7th Cavalry Regiment in 1867. According to legend, it was the last tune played before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where Custer and his entire regiment were killed. See more »
The old pickup truck that leaves the Joseph house on the reservation has 10-lug rims, and when it is returned by Victor and Thomas, it has 5-lug rims on all 4 wheels. Obviously it's a different truck. See more »
The eyes of cinema has always seen Indians only as the bad guys. The ones that shoot their arrows, wear feathers on their heads, and yell as they chase the heroes down. Finally, after 100 years of movies, we get a film that honestly portrays the Native American culture. And man, it sure is refreshing.
The story opens on the Fourth of July, 1976 in a small Idaho Indian reservation. A small infant named Thomas Builds-the-Fire is thrown out of the window of a burning house and is caught by Arnold Joseph (Gary Farmer), a neighbor with a drinking problem, who is later kicked out of the house by his wife, leaving behind his son, Victor (Adam Beach). Arnold eventually settles down in Phoenix and his family never hears from him again.
20 years later, a phone call comes. It's from a woman in Phoenix, she says that Arnold is dead. Victor, who had developed a resentment towards his father over the years, decides that he should travel to Phoenix to pick up his ashes. Unfortunately, he has no money to get there... but Thomas does and offers to pay if he can come along with Victor. This is a tough decision for Victor since he never really liked Thomas, but he finally agrees and the two set off on their journey.
It's during their journey that we learn about the characters, Victor and Thomas' conversations reveal their attitudes towards Americans their views of Native Americans. In one scene, Victor accuses Thomas of learning everything about being an Indian from watching Dances With Wolves. In another funny sequence, the two begin talking about cowboys and end up singing a tune about John Wayne's teeth! Victor's resentment for his father is also revealed to us through flashbacks depicting the early years and the memories (some good, some bad) that the two shared.
They do eventually arrive in Phoenix and find the woman that called with the news of Arnold's death. Victor talks with her during the night and finds out how much his dad cared for him and how he never wanted to leave the reservation in the first place. The events that follow drastically alter Victor's perceptions of his father forever.
Smoke Signals is a great film and one that can teach you a lot about a culture so often misrepresented on the screen. There is a feeling of ease and casualness in the conversations between Victor and Thomas... slowly they reveal more and more of themselves to us, in a way that is so nonchalant that we understand their feelings it without even noticing it. Smoke Signals is well worth your time and offers a refreshing alternative to the big budget, special effects driven crap this summer.
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