Smoke Signals is a movie about Indians made by Native Americans. It is based on Sherman Alexie’s short story collection called The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, more precisely on the short story, This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona, and directed by Chris Eyre – both American Indians. This tells the sad story of a teenager Victor Joseph, who was left by his father, and now, after his death, together with his neighbor Thomas Builds-the-Fire, is hitting the road to grab his remains. An unprepared and inattentive viewer will not notice the general aim of the movie – to depict the life of American Indians, their traditions, customs, beliefs, and lifestyles.
From the first scene of Smoke Signals movie, that takes place in the Coeur D’Alene reservation in Idaho, the movie justifies all my stereotypical knowledge concerning native Americans. From the information received from the book, internet and mass media, I imagine a typical Indian as a man with brown skin color, long black hair, slit-eyed, wearing a check-patterned shirt and jeans living in a reservation. And almost all the characters in the movie look so. Moreover, they all have a specific English accent and manner of talking that helps to recognize them from other nationalities. As Victor asks Thomas on their way to Phoenix: “Don’t you even know how to be a real Indian?” And further he teaches him how to be a real one. First of all, he says that Indians do not smile, as they are stoic. Then he says: “You have to look mean or white people won’t respect you. You gotta look like a warrior. You have to look like you just came back from killing a buffalo.” (Smoke Signals) Also, he says that hair is very important for the Indian man and criticizes Thomas’s braids together with the suit. That is a picture of a typical Indian that people can meet in the legends and stories of those tribes.
Frankly speaking, it was difficult for me to percept and find a reasonable explanation for humor in the story. I could not get the idea of it, as it looks more like mocking of Indian people, their looks and way of life. Especially in the scene where Thomas says to Victor that he heard about his father’s death “from the wind, from the birds, from the sunshine” and then adds that she just saw her sitting and crying. (Smoke Signals) Thomas’s words sound for me nothing but like a mocking of Indian closeness to nature. Also, they make fun of themselves saying: “What will you trade for that [a ride in a car]? We are Indians, do you remember? We have barter.” (Smoke Signals) Moreover, they laugh at the oral tradition of Indians, after Thomas recites a story.
After watching the Smoke Signals movie to the very end, I realized the function of humor. In my opinion, the producers of the film laughed not at Indians but in the ways, other people tend to portray Native Americans. They intended to break the stereotypical image of Indians that was created by mass media and society. It is understandable after Victor cuts his hair in the trailer (full of maps and images of Indians) and Thomas returns to his initial look (braids and the suit). It also explains the mixture of genres of the film – drama, and comedy.
The thing that was new for me is that Indians value their hair so much. Victor, as well as his father Arnold, cut their hair and never grow it again, in order to show their grief and guilt over the things they did. It is a beautiful metaphor that helps to show an Indian man as a man, who is strong-willed, devoted to his traditions and ready to admit their guilt.