Smoke Signals Response Paper Essay
The movie Smoke Signals by Sherman Alexie is a modernized film that reflects the culture, attitudes, and persona of contemporary Indians - Smoke Signals Response Paper Essay introduction. This film exposes the reality of life on a reservation, which many may mistake for nightly fire dances and feather hats. Through universal life scenarios and explanation of culture, Alexie not only shines a new light on indian life, but reflects upon the similarities and differences that exist between cultures. The film makes use of human emotion, situations and relationships to create a dramatic and truthful dynamic of the solid and figurative connections between Native America and White America.
Besides these important factors, Alexie also touches upon the importance of family and culture. This film is not an ordinary Native American film that many are used to viewing. It has very little examples and scenes of religion and it competely modernizes the life situations of Indians. Daily radio broadcasts, basketball teams, house parties and casual everyday clothing are a few examples of how Alexie portrays the modern Indian. Besides the blunt cultural clues and skin color, one could say that these behaviors and activities were of the everyday American.
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Of course, the life on the reservation is clearly seperated from other communities. This is apparent in the scene where two young women pick up the main characters Thomas and Victor and give them a ride out of the reservation. They exclaim how they should “have their passports” and their “vaccinations” in order to leave the reservation. Another scene includes two white men who steal Thomas’s and Victor’s seat on a bus. Alexie clearly shows the cultural conflict and seperation, but his purpose to connect all cultures is shown strongly in other ways.
Although there are scenes that expose stereotypes that are still believed today, such as Indians being alcoholics, these stereotypes are also contradicted through certain character actions and attitudes. In John Mihelich’s article “Smoke or Signals? : American Popular Culture and the Challenge to Hegemonic Images of American Indians in Native American Film” he explains how alcoholism is not just represented, but also shown in a different light when Victor, one of the main characters, smashes alcohol against the back of his dad’s pickup truck after a night of his parent’s drinking.
His mother vowed to never drink alcohol ever again (3). These examples and scenarios that involve alcohol can easily be related to other cultures as well. It is well known that every culture has the occurence of alcohol related problems, which also involve children as well as vows to stop drinking. Through dramatic and emotional scenes such as this, which includes the father later on hitting Victor’s mother, relatable situations for every cultre are demonstrated. Alexie not only utilizes blunt situations, dialogue and character interaction to fulfill his purpose, but also uses strong visual effects, camera positions, and scene setup.
He appeals strongly to pathos to generate his purpose in creating the film. Within the film, there is a scene where Thomas, a main character who’s parents died in a fire when he was an infant, and his grandmother, who had taken care of him his whole life, were sitting across from eachother at a dinner table. They were eating alone quietly with frybread positioned perfectly between them. The frybread stationed between them can symbolize the importance of culture in their lives. Another key detail is how Thomas and his grandmother look similar with long braids and glasses.
This shows the influence and importance of family. This shot can clearly be related to other cultures. For example, Christian families base their dinners around their religion by saying grace. Family is also of great importance in this religion. Relationships are an important aspect in connecting cultures. The two main characters Thomas and Victor are not of the same family, but execute familiar qualities of a brotherly relationship. Thomas is shown as the feeble, inferior person compared to Victor. Victor is characterized as a strong and somewhat angry male.
Throughout the film, Victor seems to bully and demeaning to Thomas, much like a “big brother” while Thomas is portrayed as the pesty and bothersome “little brother” to Victor. Both boys are virtually fatherless, but in different circumstances. Victor had a father with alcoholism, while Thomas lost his father early in his life. Victor and Thomas both have single, female guardians who have raised them. These are all very common relationships seen throughout all cultures. With such relational variety, it is not hard to target an a wide audience who can relate to this film.
Alexie seems to want to target a wide audience as frequently as possible. Alexie’s purpose to connect Native America and White America was fulfilled through the use of emotion, relatable experiences and relationships. This film’s audience seems to be everyone in every culture, by exhibiting it through the eyes of a Native American. He uses visual pathos in his film to emotionally connect every culture through tough life experiences. He does this while simultaneously exhibiting the blunt cultural boundaries of Native America and others.
Mihelich, John. “Smoke or Signals? American Popular Culture and the Challenge to Hegemonic Images of American Indians in Native American Film” Wicazo Review (2001): 129-137.