In this movie Victor, the main character, sees himself as a “real” Indian. Victor conveys resentment and anger towards his father Arnold Joseph, who was an alcoholic and abusive towards his family. Arnold Joseph always threatened to disappear in the movie and eventually he ran away to Phoenix Arizona.
Thomas, the other main character in the story, remembers Arnold Joseph as a friendly man who saved his life from the fire. Later you learn Arnold Joseph leaves the reservation because he is racked with guilt from accidently setting the fire that killed Thomas parents. Thomas’s character is a traditionalist in practicing his oral tradition. Thomas is far less stern than his counterpart Victor is.
Smoke Signals is about the journey Thomas and Victor have while collecting the ashes of Arnold Joseph. Thomas sees this journey as his vision quest. The vision quest came to him in the form of Spokane Falls, and while there, Arnold appeared to him, as if in a dream. This faith is called animism, the belief in spiritual entities, souls, and spirits.( Connard Phillip Kottak, Mirror for Humanity: a Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology ( New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010), 191.) These trance states are part of Native American culture. These vision quests are a rite of passage for Native Americans.( IBID., 195.) Rites of passage are events that transform one
Cited: Smoke Signals. DVD. Directed by Chris Eyre. Seattle: ShadowCatcher Entertainment, 1998. Kottak, Conrad Phillip. Mirror for Humanity: a Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010.