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.
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