Smoke Signals Forgiving Our Fathers
“You know there are some children who aren't really children at all, they're just pillars of flame that burn everything they touch. And there are some children who are just pillars of ash, that fall apart when you touch them... Victor and me, we were children of flame and ash.”
This is how the film Smoke Signals starts, with a monologue from Thomas BuildsTheFire, who was orphaned in a fire in 1976. Twenty years later, Thomas and his childhood friend Victor Joseph embark on a journey from the Couer D’Alene reservation in Idaho to retrieve the ashes of Victor’s father from Phoenix, Arizona.
As the child of an abusive father, Victor is bitter and full of anger. Throughout the film, we see flashbacks of Arnold’s treatment of his son that help us to understand Victor. Arnold tries to love his son, but consistently places alcohol as a priority over his family. He physically abuses his wife and son, and eventually leaves them both when his wife tries to force him to give up his addiction. “I broke three hearts that day,” we hear Arnold Joseph say during a flashback to his neighbor in Phoenix, Suzy Song. Victor’s heart, obviously, was one of them.
We know right from the start about Arnold Joseph’s failings as a father. We also know early on of his death, and his cremation. Arnold Joseph’s cremation is a sign of how he burned himself up with his selfdestructive tendencies, and how his relationship with his family is ruined as a result. These relationships are the foundation of the film, and their destruction in flame is what drives the main theme of the movie: forgiveness of our fathers.
As Victor and Thomas journey from Couer D’Alene to Phoenix, their relationship is strained many times. Thomas is awkward and sometimes blunt, and he speaks often of his relationship with Arnold Joseph. This causes Victor to be jealous and resentful towards ...
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