Critically acclaimed as one of the best films of the year, SMOKE SIGNALS was also a distinguished winner at the Sundance Film Festival! Though Victor and Thomas have lived their entire young lives in the same tiny town, th... more »ey couldn't have less in common! But when Victor is urgently called away, it's Thomas who comes up with the money to pay for his trip. There's just one thing Victor has to do: take Thomas along for the ride! You're in for a rare and entertaining comic treat as this most unlikely pair leave home on what becomes an unexpectedly unforgettable adventure of friendship and discovery!« less
"I work as a psychotherapist with adolescents and young adults. I use "Smoke Signals" with them by assigning them to rent and view the movie, which is always enjoyable because it's witty, humorous, wise, and significant. The movie poses two essential questions: 1) If someone else has mistreated, hurt, abandoned, or disrespected you, is it possible to forgive them if they've NEVER asked forgiveness, never done anything to "put it right," never returned in atonement to undo the damage, and never begtun to deserve it? And 2) if it *is* possible--and it may not be--SHOULD you? Because if you do, doesn't that just make you a willing victim by letting them "get away" with what they did, and pretending the relationship is okay again?Victor lives in the tension of this dilemma. As a 12-year-old youth, he witnessed the effects of alcohol on his family. His father vascillated between being loving and instantly "turning" to become hostile, violent, and humiliating to the young boy. Victor finds himself becoming more deeply embarrassed by his family's domestic abuse and alcohol use, even defiantly scolding his own father that his favorite Indian is "Nobody...nobody...nobody!"Victor's mother awakens the next morning to see Victor angrily smashing his father's beer bottles on the back of his father's picup truck (the two things he believes his father loves more than him), and the epiphany stuns the mother, who insists on an immediate end to family drunkenness. Proving Victor's fears true, the father--forced to choose between alcohol and family--flees the family, and never returns. It is within that unchanged arrangement that his father dies, 8 years later, having never returned home.Victor and his oddball companion Thomas make a side-splittingly funny journey south from Idaho to Phoenix together to make arrangements for the father's possessions, confronted by the racism, peculiarities, and hostilities of the non-Indian "outside" world. Thomas, having never seen the dark side of Victor's father, irritates Victor with incessant stories and tales about the dad's greatness. Victor, having been so deeply wounded and sold-out by his father's abandonment, has become tough, fierce, aggressive...and lonely. "You can't trust anyone!" he scolds. "People will walk all over you!" His mistrust poisons his friendships, family, and feelings about his father. He's become just another tough guy, hardened by family violence and substance use.In Phoenix, Victor finds an essential artifact of his father's life: a worn-out photo with "HOME" written sloppily on it. At once, Victor begins to realize that his father's fatal flaw was COWARDICE: the father could confess his sins to new companions a thousand miles from home, but could never return home and undo the damage he'd caused. And so his son has suffered for 8 years. Victor begins to realize that he himself is allowing his actions to damage others, and that it is cowardice, not manly independence, that controls his decision to remain distant and fierce.Victor slowly begins to repent of his own abusive toughness, cutting his hair in symbolic repentance (traditional hair-cutting is done either in grief, or in repentence for shameful behavior). The process of discovery continues when Thomas angrily confronts Victor about Victor's own behavior: remaining cold and distant from his own mother, acting forceful and ruthless to others, etc.Victor ends the film by freeing himself of his 8-year hostility toward his unforgiven father, and in that final act of forgiveness we find that the greatest benefit is for VICTOR, who becomes kinder, funnier, gentler, and more confident in his friendships. The significance of forgiveness, he learns, isn't to let someone else off the hook, but to let one's own self off the hook of the pain caused by another, rather than carrying that pain inside for years. In the final scene, this release of aged anger is represented by the cathartic release of his father's ashes into a river, meaningfully shown in film montage as expanding in power from streams into torrents, much like the energy of either a person enraged or a person set free.It is at the end of the film that we really begin to understand Thomas' original cryptic remark at the beginning, "Some children aren't really children at all. They're just pillars of flame that burn everything they touch. And some children are just pillars of ash, and they fall apart as soon as you touch them."Not one single person yet who's watched this film at my urging has disliked it."
Fry bread, John Wayne's teeth, and storytelling.....
Veggiechiliqueen | 01/19/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Smoke Signals" was the first movie to be written, directed, and co-produced by a Native American. It is based on the novel "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" by Sherman Alexie, who also published a movie adaptation of "Smoke Signals" as well.The majority of the cast is from a variety of Canadian First Nations tribes (Coast Salish, Cree, Cayuga, Ojibwa), so there are different cultural backgrounds at work as well. "Smoke Signals" is a journey of the heart, an exploration of what it means to be Indian, venturing into the world outside the rez. Thomas's stories are part Indian legend, part reweaving of the facts surrounding Victor and his father.The story follows Victor Joseph as he goes to collect the remains of his father, who had abandoned his family and moved to Arizona (the film's working title was "This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona," based on a chapter of "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." His wise friend Thomas Builds-the-Fire goes with him on a trip from their rez in Coeur-d'Alene, Idaho to Arnold Joseph's trailer in Arizona. Along the way they rediscover their pasts and their perceptions of the world around them.An unusual, touching film that pokes fun at the stoic Indian stereotypes endorsed by Hollywood for decades, such as the "It's a good day to die" line. There are many notable First Nations actors (Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Tantoo Cardinal, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Elaine Miles) that make this film a joy to watch. Inspired performances from all, especially Adam Beach and Gary Farmer. This is my favourite film of the last few years as it never loses its humour, mystical side, and beauty."
Great road trip movie!
Kate C. | Lansing, MI USA | 03/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the greatest underrated movies ever made!Most of the emotional bite is taken from Sherman Alexie's "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" leaving a great yet simple story about two Indians (Alexie himself dislikes the label "Native American") on the road from the upper Northwest to Arizona. The mission: collect the remains of the father of Victor Joseph-- played with great complexity by Adam Beach. Along for the ride is Thomas, the local reservation geek who brings along with him a vast array of stories from the past mixed with humor and pain played with resilence by Evan Adams, to the constant annoyance of Victor who has no time for stories or memories, only "truth" and the present tense.This movie is a series of vignettes as the two travel off the reservation ("You're leavin' the Rez and going into a whole different country cousin." "But it's the United States." "Damn right it is, that's as foreign as it gets!") and into the wilderness of forgotten memories and rough landscape. Mixed in with the ponderings of what it means to be indeginous in America and who makes the best fry-bread is a great soundtrack which includes Dar Williams and Ulali.This movie does not try to be more than it is: the story of two young men trying to find their place in the world with humor and anger. Director Chris Eyre keeps the story and the settings simple and the flashbacks flow fluidly from one iteration to the next.I would highly recommend this movie to anyone!"
A Great Movie About the Stories We Tell Ourselves
davesworld | Santa Rosa, California | 04/15/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams) tells stories. Anyone who has ever had a father, or a father figure should listen. Smoke Signals is a movie about the stories we tell, about growing up sane in an insane world, and about learning to find the truth in the fiction we create for ourselves.Based on short stories from Sherman Alexie's brilliant collection of wit, irony and tragic comedy, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, this film shows a sure hand and a light touch. Sherman Alexie knows how to write with irony, wit and subtle humor, and in this screenplay he captures perfectly, as he does in his book, the angst that is uniquely 20th century American Indian. As our two protagonists prepare leave the reservation to claim Victor's (Adam Beach) dead father's truck, a woman who drives backward around the reservation all day in her Chevy tells them to be careful. When they tell her they're only going to Arizona (they live on the Coeur d'Alene reservation in Washington State), she replies, "Unh . . . America, huh? That's about as foreign as it gets."It is that bemused sense of being an outsider in your own land that drives this independent film and gives it a genuine feel, rather than the typical over-romanticized "Dances with Wolves" version of Indian-ness. Victor, in fact, takes vicious delight in both perpetuating and defying Indian stereotypes, as he leads a chorus of "John Wayne's Teeth" and councils Thomas, who wears thick glasses and his long hair in braids, to look more fierce, "like you just got back from killin' a buffalo or somthin."It is Beach's performance which seems the most stilted and amateurish, unfortunately, as one of the major characters. But he almost makes it work for him by internalizing Victor's anger and creating another mask, however thin. Another problem is the romance that almost develops between Victor and his dead father's neighbor (Irene Bedard). Perhaps it was a choice between staying with the major theme of the movie and "going Hollywood" on both the casting and the plot in this case. There is real heat when the two are on screen, but it goes nowhere. These are two very minor irritations with an otherwise delightful movie. The universality of this coming of age story, combined with its unique characters and point of view, make this a video you're going to want to see again and again. Buy it."
It's a Good Day to Be Indigenous....
D. Pawl | Seattle | 06/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I want to start out by saying Sherman Alexie is probably one of the greatest writers of our time. When I say "greatest writers" I don't mean "greatest NATIVE writers" or "greatest writers of COLOR," I mean Greatest Writers. Mr. Alexie manages to capture the most universal emotions (grief, joy, heartbreak, anguish) and make the excessible to all, yet he also brings his own unique flavor, style and ironic wit to the mix so we are never bored. I can honestly say that Smoke Signals is one of those films that is really dear to my heart for many reasons, and the screenplay by Alexie definitely is one of the contributing factors.For starters, there are so many classic lines in this film. The first being that line I used as the subject for this review. "It is a good day to be Indigenous." I don't think we hear that everyday! The negative view of native people even today is really disturbing, and I think when people regardless of background see the portrayal of indigenous people in films, television shows, literature and education it continues to horrify and astound us all. Secondly, the story is a wonderful and important one that I think everyone can relate to. It touches on the theme of fathers and the relationship with their children. Victor (Adam Beach) is an bitter, angry and distrustful young man who grew up on the Coeur D'Alene "Rez" with his bespectacled friend/nemesis Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams). These young men are growing up in a culture separate from mainstream white culture--a culture they eventually leave when they go to retrieve the ashes of Victor's deceased father. What starts out as a road trip turns into something more significant than either of them could've imagined. It becomes ceremonial, and a real opportunity for maturity that changes their relationships with each other and themselves. Finally, the acting is wonderful. The lead actors are engaging, believable and sympathetic. The supporting cast is strong and they really capture the essence of Alexie's novels. When I read TONTO AND LONE RANGER FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN (specifically the short story, "This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," which the film was based on), the way I envisioned the characters (how they would look, how they would talk, etc) matched the image exactly! Take it from me, a Sherman Alexie fan and self-proclaimed "culture vulture".....this film is all that and a stack of fry bread!"