The film Smoke Signals is a journey of two young men from the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation. One of the young men, Thomas, describes the journey as a “ceremony,” as each of them along the way endeavors to discover what it means to be ‘Indian’ in twentieth century America. Thomas and Victor have conflicting opinions of how Indians should be: Victor is the stoic warrior lacking a battle to fight and Thomas is the visionary storyteller whom no one listens to.
The overriding theme of this film is the sense of loss felt by the Indians, in the past and present. The manner in which the film cuts back and forth between past and present signifies how all events are intertwined, and stresses how Indians strongly hold on to their past and their ancestors’ past. One example of this remembrance is seen when Thomas and Victor are walking in the desert to Victor’s father’s trailer. Thomas says:
Columbus shows up and we start walking away from that beach, trying to get away, and then Custer moves into the neighborhood, drivin’ down all the property values, and we gotta keep on walking, and ole Harry Truman drops the bomb and we gotta keep on walking ‘cept it’s all bright now and we can see exactly where we’re going, and then we get a beachhouse on the moon, but Neil Armstrong shows up and boots us off into space (Smoke Signals).
This speech is an excellent example of the history of the Indians; how they were forced to move from one area to another and then again, as whites moved in and displaced them. It also shows how the Indians feel adrift, like there is no place they can call their own, not even on the moon.
The feeling of loss is also seen in scenes such as when Victor and his father lose the basketball game to the Jesuit priests, and when their seat on the bus is taken by the two white men who say, “No, these were your seats” (Smoke Signals). But however much the Indians live with the remembrance of what they lost, they continue to hold out hope that someday they will regain their former life. This widespread Indian belief is described when Victor’s father says that with a sweep of his hand, he could make the “whites disappear” (Smoke Signals).
This is an excellent film as it gives us perspectives into the present life of Native Americans, which is something that is frequently overlooked by our society.