Word Count: 1128
Smoke Signals and the Oral Tradition
While watching the movie Smoke Signals, it can be readily observed that the story is driven not only through the adventures of the two main protagonists; Thomas Builds-the-Fire and Victor Joseph, but also through the words and histories spoken by Thomas, who is a practicer of the spoken word, or oral traditions of Native Americans. The oral tradition was used by Native Americans to pass down history, culture, traditions, and their beliefs. The use of storytelling in the film gives the sense of time with the flash forwards and flashbacks. Written by Sherman Alexie and directed by Chris Eyre, Thomas and childhood friend Victor, go from bickering pals to having a great respect for one another. At first glance, this movie appears to be a road trip movie, but then Alexie does much more than follow the archetype of the genre. When the two boys were just babies, Thomas’ parents were killed in a fire that was accidentally started by Victor’s father Arnold. Although Arnold failed to tell anyone of this deed, he did try to overcome his sins by saving the two boys’ life. Thomas does not forget this and holds Arnold in high revere. Thomas, having been raised by his grandmother, only knows a two parent family by proxy, through Victor. Victor holds a high level of resentment for his own father, both for leaving him and his family, causing him and his mother great despair. He and Thomas go from their home Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation, after Victor’s mother received a call that Arnold had past, where his father had spent his final years, in Phoenix, Arizona. Once in Phoenix, we are introduced to Suzie Song, a friend of Arnold. Suzie serves to help Victor in understanding the big picture of Arnold’s life and death. Throughout the movie, Thomas tells stories of Victor’s parents. Events leading up to these stories and the stories themselves contain a comical, almost sarcastic and satirical view...
Cited: West, Dennis, West, Joan M. “Sending Cinematic Smoke Signals: An Interview with Sherman Alexie.” Cineaste 22 September 1998; 28.
Smoke Signals. Dir. Chris Eyre. Perf. Adam Beach, Evan Adams. Miramax Films. 1999.
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