What is the movie Smoke Signals about? Indigenous movie plot explored

 Thomas and Victor in Smoke Signals (Image via IMDb)
Thomas and Victor in Smoke Signals (Image via IMDb)

Smoke Signals is director Chris Eyre's first feature film. It was the first Indigenous film written, directed, and performed by Indigenous actors. The 1998 comedy-drama was inspired by Sherman Alexie’s short story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993).

The movie brought in around $7 million at the box office, and in 2018, it was even inducted into the National Film Registry.

Smoke Signals tells the tale of Native Americans' contemporary existence—a story that resonates with many contemporary adolescent Native Americans living on federal reservations. The film concerns the bond between a parent and son. It is about learning about who we are through our relationships with other people.


Everything you need to know about the plot of Smoke Signals

Thomas and Victor take a road trip (Image via IMDb)
Thomas and Victor take a road trip (Image via IMDb)

When Thomas was a little boy, Arnold saved him from a fire. Thomas thus began seeing Arnold as a hero. However, Victor, who is Arnold's son, is seen angry with his father for the latter's violent behavior, drinking, and his decision to desert his family.

The film kicks off when a fire begins amidst late-night festivities on July Fourth, 1976, when Victor and Thomas, who are still children at the time, are asleep.

With the assistance of Arnold, who is Victor’s father (Gary Farmer), young Victor and his family manage to escape. Meanwhile, Thomas is the only member of his family to survive the fire - in a desperate attempt, his parents toss him out of a second-story window, and Victor's father ends up catching him.

Smoke Signals exemplifies the value of forgiveness and community (Image via IMDb)
Smoke Signals exemplifies the value of forgiveness and community (Image via IMDb)

Thomas thus begins seeing Arnold as his hero. However, the latter's relationship with his son and wife sours, causing his wife to throw him out of his house. Victor also begins resenting his father for not being mentally and emotionally available for his family.

Years later, Victor learns of his father's death, and is asked by his mother to collect Arnold’s ashes. He lacks the financial means to make the trip, and his only hope is to seek out Thomas for help. Thomas agrees, but on one condition: he will also come along.

During the trip, the two boys learn from each other about Arnold, as together, they navigate the world, and themselves.


How are Thomas and Victor different from one another?

Victor's childhood missed his father's presence (Image via IMDb)
Victor's childhood missed his father's presence (Image via IMDb)

In the film Smoke Signals, Thomas and Victor are like fire and ashes. Through his tale, Thomas reveals himself as a quiet, wise youngster open to communicating and listening to others. In contrast, Victor's unpleasant demeanor and frequent outbursts reveal him to be a young man who experiences familial problems and difficulties with anger management.

Because he was left alone after his family perished in a fire, Thomas is associated with ash. Victor, however, is more like a fire in terms of personality. His father leaves him because he can't work out his differences with his family, which makes him irrationally angry and incapable of feeling empathy.


Symbolism in Smoke Signals

Arnold flees to Pheonix because of guilt (Image via IMDb)
Arnold flees to Pheonix because of guilt (Image via IMDb)

Arnold, Victor's father, wasn't an evil man - he was simply struggling with alcoholism. He flees to Phoenix, Arizona, feeling guilty about Thomas' parents dying in the fire. Here, the ashes, flames, and fire emblem aid in illustrating the characters' suffering. The significance of Phoenix, where Arnold relocates, stems from the legend of the bird that rises from the ashes.

The film Smoke Signals exemplifies the value of forgiveness and community. Native Americans consider the Phoenix a mythical bird that rises from the ashes, thus tying this symbol to the indigenous community.

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