The Flames Of Forgiveness In The Film Smoke Signals

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The movie, Smoke Signals, written by Sherman Alexie and directed by Chris Eyre and produced in 1998. This film begins on July 4, 1976 on the Coeur d’ Alene Reservation. This movie has a variety amount of metaphors and themes spread throughout the movie. The themes consisted within this film are forgiveness, the importance of friendship, the danger of alcoholism, handling family conflicts, and fire being a huge metaphor/symbol in this movie as well. But the one theme that draws my attention and am compassionate most about is forgiveness. Forgive those who have done you wrong, to live a healthier life rather than living in a life holding grudges.

Arnold Joseph (Gary Farmer), drunk while celebrating the 'independence', lit off fireworks and set the Builds-the-Fire residence on fire, killing the parents of Thomas Builds-the Fire. Many people were already asleep in the house when the fire started, so no one was able to witness Arnold’s mistake, which he kept a secret from the whole reservation. Both Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams) and Victor Joseph (Adam Beach), Arnold’s son, were saved from the burning house. Arnold ran to catch Thomas in his arms after Thomas was thrown from a window. After the fire, Thomas was raised by his grandmother (Monique Mojica). Victor was raised by his father Arnold and his mother Arlene (Tantoo Cardinal) in a family that was falling apart. After the fire, Arnold turned to alcohol to bury the guilt of accidentally killing the Builds-the-Fire parents by burning down their house by accident. Arnold’s drinking was out of hand. Arnold’s alcohol ended up causing him to abuse his family. He hit both Arlene and Victor. Which led to his father leaving to Phoenix, years later Thomas gave Victor some money to go to Phoenix since Arnold passed away but under one condition, Thomas had to come along too. Victor had no other choice but to accept the offer. And the journey began where he found his father’s living quarters. After getting answers to questions he had they left Phoenix. On the way home, Victor and Thomas got into a car accident on the highway. They swerved off the highway to avoid hitting a car that was stopped in the middle of the road. After the highway accident, Victor had found peace with himself and his father. Somehow he realized that he had to forgive Arnold for what he did and move on. You can say that going to Phoenix was a way to help him face his problems with his father. If he didn’t have to go to Phoenix to take care of Arnold’s death, he would have never realized that the way for him to be content with what happened with his father was to face his problems. Forgiveness was what Victor needed to do to fill the void in his life. Victor finalized his forgiveness to his father by spreading his ashes over the river. This signified Victor setting himself, and his father, free.

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Victor’s experience and journey of finding what it takes to forgive is something that I can relate to. I’ve had to go through the many steps and stages that Victor did in order to reach the point of forgiveness and therefore, peace. It’s a process that involves apathy, anger, confusion, and pain amongst many other emotions, but the ultimate goal is reaching that point where you can forgive. When my parents split, I had a lot of confusion and apathy about the problem. When friendships of mine have fallen apart because friends turned their backs on me, I felt a lot of pain and apathy. After a close friend of mine lied to me, I had to deal with being able to trust her again and accepting an apology. All of these obstacles that I’ve had to face have all worked out. Problems don’t just work out by themselves, you need to face the problems. Facing problems is a critical step to understanding that is necessary to forgive. When forgiveness is tangible, real peace is found. When forgiveness isn’t possible, it’s the understanding that will solve the problem. When Victor found it in himself to understand, forgive, and forget, he was able to move on with his life and leave the burden that his father caused upon him behind. This process of forgiveness was shown very well in the film by the sequence of events. The film moved in chronological order, so it naturally showed the different stages that Victor faced while dealing with his problems caused by his father. Seeing the sequence of events in this film could cause some of us to notice how similar situations in our lives relate to this.

Forgiveness is not the only thing this film consist of other viewpoints that can be taken from this film is to discover ourselves through our relationships with others and how it is never too late to turn the tables. You can really see Victor discovering himself as the movie goes on he was very stubborn and seemed so angry all the time. However, towards the end after his journey with Thomas he has learned to forget about his grudge against his father and he became happier with himself. This viewpoint also relates to a similar viewpoint of how it is never too late to turn the tables. By this I mean that Victor never really forgave his father for leaving and he constantly drilled into his head that his father is a terrible man. He was able to turn that negative thought into a positive as the movie progressed and he started to understand the situation when he discovered new pieces of intel.

Some Coeur d’ Alene Native American History that corresponds to this film is their symbolism of the gift so powerful that it has the ability to give life, take life, and transform life. The gift itself is a living thing. It is born, it breathes, it consumes, and it dies. This gift is within us, and yet it is a reflection of us. The gift is fire which is also the very heart of Smoke Signals. Fire started this movie in the first place since it was a big tragedy where Thomas lost his parents. Also how Smoke Signals was a source of communication to people in great distances. Also they emphasized on hair and how it is considered sacred and significant to who we are as an individual, family, and community. In many tribes, it is believed that a person's long hair represents a strong cultural identity. Hair is a symbol of a time with their loved one and once they pass they will cut their hair which represents a great loss. Also in this movie Thomas gets visions/Signs within his dreams which was some type of spiritual connection that Natives actual experiences through sleep.

In conclusion, this issue of forgiveness that is the most valuable from this film. The viewer can benefit from this by being able to notice how Victor got through his problems. If the viewer has problems of his or her own that are similar to this, then maybe the viewer can apply the film’s lessons to his or her life. The issue of forgiveness is the main point, but there are other great lessons and morals such as the importance of friendship, the danger of alcoholism, handling family conflicts, etc. Not to mention, there is a lot to be learned about Native American culture from this film. I would recommend this film to get a better view on certain perspectives you never thought about and that makes this film very eye opening. Another reason is to just learn from another we may depict ourselves to be different but we are similar in ways you would have never thought of.

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The Flames Of Forgiveness In The Film Smoke Signals. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
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