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Smoke Signals Questions:

1. What were the most important meanings that you found in this film? What
messages do you think the filmmakers were trying to communicate? What
aspects of this film deal with situations unique to Indians, and what aspects
concern universal human themes?

I think one of the most important things in this film was that Victor had
such a great friend in Thomas. Even when Victor was getting fed up with
Thomas’ constant story telling, and talking about his dad; Thomas was still a
good friend; never giving up on Victor. As mean and hateful Victor can be
Thomas knows he just needs a good friend to break through that hatred.
Another great thing in this film was when the police man asked Victor
if he had been drinking when they had the wreck, and Victor answered “No
Sir. I’ve never had a drop of alcohol in my life.” When the police man
answered well what kind of Indian are you then this shows one of the things
Native American people have to live with day by day. Indians have a strong
stereotype of being drunks, when Victor said he had never touched alcohol it
proved against the stereotype.

2. Near the beginning of the film, Thomas says, “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 if you touch ’em. Me and Victor—we were children born
of flame and ash.” What does Thomas mean by this? What images of fire
and ash appear in this film?

I think a child of flame is a destructive, heartbroken, abused or have


been through very hard times and yet still stronger than anyone you will ever
meet. A child of ash is the opposite of that; they fall apart easily and are very
sensitive to certain issues. When Thomas says that he and Victor are both of
these he means exactly that. Victor and Thomas both have been through
very hard times; Thomas never even knew his parents, Victors father left
when he was still young. This made them both tough, able to deal with
things better than others. But at the same time you can mention the two
catastrophic events and they can loose that strength all together.
When Victor is running to get help after the car accident there a view
of Thomas’ house burning down, also just a pure screen of fire. I think this is
representing the strength it took for Victor to make it all the way to help and
also the strength it took for him to deal with everything else he had been
through to that point.
3. After Arnold saves Thomas from the fire, Grandma Builds-the-Fire says to
him, “You saved Thomas. You did a good thing,” and Arnold replies, “I didn’t
mean to.” Why does Arnold respond in this way?

Arnold responds in this way because he was the one who started the
fire in the first place and he felt guilty. No one had known who stated the fire
until Victor went to get his dads’ things from the trailer. At first Victor didn’t
believe the woman but he realized it was just like his dad. Arnold responded
this way, because he felt guilty for receiving praise for doing a good thing
that was caused by something horrible he had done. Also he had killed
Thomas’s parents in the process. He didn’t mean to kill them. He didn’t mean
to start the fire. He didn’t mean to cause a child to have to grow up without
parents.

4. Near the end of the film, Thomas asks Victor, “Do you know why you’re
Dad really left?” Victor replies, “Yeah. He didn’t mean to, Thomas.” What
didn’t Arnold mean to do? What does this exchange reveal to us about Victor
and Thomas?

I think the answer to this question is almost the same as the last.
Arnold didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I think he thought by leaving the
reservation he was going to stop hurting people, but by leaving he hurt every
person around him. He couldn’t stop drinking at the Rez because of the
memories of Thomas and the fire that killed his parents. He couldn’t escape
the disapproval of his sons’ eyes. Arnold went away to help himself and his
family he thought that if he left they’d be better off. He loved his family; his
home. But he left so he wouldn’t hurt his wife anymore, or his son for that
matter.

5. Thomas’ monologue at the end of the film is adapted from “Forgiving Our
Fathers,” a poem by Dick Lourie, a non-Native author. The film’s version of
the poem is given below. How does this poem work as a conclusion to the
film?

How do we forgive our fathers? Maybe in a dream. Do we forgive our


fathers for leaving us too often or forever? Maybe for scaring us with
unexpected rage, or making us nervous because there never seemed to be
any rage there at all? Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying
our mothers? For divorcing or not divorcing our mothers? And shall we
forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness? Shall we forgive
them for pushing or leaning? For shutting doors? For speaking through
walls, or never speaking, or never being silent? Do we forgive our fathers in
our age or in theirs? Or in their deaths? Saying it to them or not saying it?
If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

I believe this poem is a good conclusion to this film because it ties


ideas together very well. When it asks “How do we forgive our Fathers?” This
is related to not only Victors’ journey to forgive Arnold for leaving him at
such a young age but Thomas’ Journey as well. Victors need to forgive was
obvious in this film but what some people might not have caught in this film
was that Arnold had two sons. From the moment Thomas was thrown into
Arnolds arms from that burning building he had two sons. Yes Thomas was
not Arnolds “real” son but Arnold was all that Thomas had. I believe that’s
why Arnold taking Thomas to Denny’s was so important. That was such a
special moment in Thomas’ life and no one noticed it but him.

6. Our images of ourselves and of other people come not only from our
experiences of ourselves and of other people, but also from movies,
television, books, and other media. How have Native Americans typically
been represented in American popular culture, especially movies? (Recall
LaDuke’s discussion of this topic in Last Standing Woman, 108-110.) How
does Smoke Signals conform to or break with these images?

7. This film repeatedly uses humor to comment on stereotypes about


Indians. Identify some of the humorous scenes in the film. Why might a
Native audience find them funny?

One of the Humorous scenes in this film is where Thomas and Victor
are riding on the bus and Victor tries to teach Thomas how to be a “Real
Indian.” He teaches his a mean face and to let his hair down. When the boys
get back on the bus from changing clothes two white men had taken their
seats. When Victor and Thomas use there “Indian Faces” the white men still
refuse to give up the seats. When Victor finally moved to the back Thomas
says “I guess you tough face doesn’t always work does it.” Victor just says
“Shut up Thomas.” An audience may find this funny just because of the
different reactions of the two Indians. Thomas doesn’t mind moving and
Victor is very upset. Also the comments the two make, Thomas has a very
sarcastic moment and Victor doesn’t like it at all.

8. What does being an Indian mean to Victor and Thomas? (Recall especially
their conversation on the bus when Victor ridicules Thomas for watching
Dances with Wolves so many times). Where do you think that Victor has
gotten his ideas about how an Indian should act?

To Victor being an Indian means being tough, defeating the odds, and
defying authority. To Thomas it is just the opposite. A story telling elder is a
real Indian. When Victor asks Thomas how many times he had seen Dances
with Wolves and his answer was over 100 this showed where Thomas had
learned where to be an Indian. Victor on the other hand learned from what
little he knew from his father. He always had to protect himself from his
drunken dad so that’s where he thought he had be tough.

9. Discuss the following comment by Sherman Alexie. Do you agree with his
understanding of fiction? What do you see as the role of Thomas’ stories in
the movie?

“It’s all based on the basic theme, for me, that storytellers are essentially
liars. At one point in the movie, Suzy asks Thomas, “Do you want lies or do
you want the truth?” and he says, “I want both.” I think that line is what
reveals most about Thomas’s character and the nature of his storytelling and
the nature, in my opinion, of storytelling in general, which is that fiction blurs
and nobody knows what the truth is. And within the movie itself, nobody
knows what the truth is.” (“Sending Cinematic Smoke Signals: An Interview
with Sherman Alexie,” by Dennis West and Joan M. West, Cineaste 23 (Fall,
1998): 28 (5 pages), http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/alexie.html).

10. The characters of Thomas and Victor can be thought of as representing


the active and contemplative aspects of life. In what way does each exhibit
these characteristics? Is this a useful way of thinking about the life choices
each of the young men have made?

11. Trivia question: What are the names of the women who drive around the
reservation in reverse, and what is the significance of their names?

Velma and Louise

Lucy

12. From a Sherman Alexie Interview:


Cineaste: You have called your screenplay "groundbreaking" because of its
portrayal of Indians. Why?

Sherman Alexie: Well, it's a very basic story, a road trip/buddy movie about a
lost father, so I'm working with two very classical, mythic structures. You can
find them in everything from The Bible to The Iliad and The Odyssey. What is
revolutionary or groundbreaking about the film is that the characters in it are
Indians, and they're fully realized human beings. They're not just the
sidekick, or the buddy, they're the protagonists. Simply having Indians as the
protagonists in a contemporary film, and placing them within this familiar
literary and cinematic structure, is groundbreaking.

What is your opinion on stereotyping of races in films? Can you give


examples from films you have seen? Is stereotyping ever OK?

Stereotyping of races in films is what has always made the movie what
it is. The Black guy is always the gangster, the Mexican is the thug who’s
involved with drugs and gangs and the White people are always the over
bearing cops that will beat the crap out of anyone who tries to look at them.
These stereotypical roles have influence hundreds of teens and probably
thousands of adults also. Every film you watch has some type of
stereotyping.