Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Smoke Signals

     Through many points throughout the film entitled Smoke Signals, the race of Native Americans are challenged with many stereotypes since it's a more realist perspective on Indian reservation life.  It tells the story of a young man named Victor and his journey of self actualization about growing up and getting over personal struggles.  He is faced with many obstacles with the most extreme being the death of his father.  Throughout the movie, Indians on the reservation constantly make jokes about their way of life.  Their version of the traffic report is information on specific people since their roads are empty.  When one wins the lottery the reporter comments, "used car dealerships will be waiting."  It further emphasizes how they accept the way they live and have no will to change how people view the race.  They try to find humor in the way they live.
     Victor and Thomas are wrapped up in stereotypes and what it really is to be a 'real' Indian. Victor tells Thomas of the idea to look like a warrior by stating, "you got to look like mean or people won't respect you."   He unravels his braids and gets rid of his suit. Indians are thought of to be angry persistent people. But Thomas is one of few on the reservation that is not following the same character as the others. He tells stories glorifying and exaggerating many events.  Most of them lies, but uses real people with a mix of moral justice. The storytelling is also a way to move the story along.  His stories are a way to show flashbacks and shine greater light on dark situations.  For example, he tells the story of Victor's mom feeding 100 people with 50 pieces of fry bread which is a parody of Jesus feeding his people with little food. 
     It's hard to oversee the meaning of fire in this film.  The movie starts with fire and ends with fire. Its a symbol of freedom and rebirth.  Thomas is reborn through the fire that killed his family.  Forever he is marked with that memory and becomes an Indian unlike the rest.  He has a different attitude towards life and sees it with more hope. Victor's father moved to Phoenix, Arizona.  Phoenix possibly relating to the mythical bird thought to be reborn out of its ashes.  His move was a way for him to start over and begin a new life.  There is a cleansing associating with fire and his father needed a way to clean his conscious of the fire he started that killed two lives.
     In many films and novels, stereotypes of Native Americans center the same idea.  Reservation life is poverty stricken and alcohol abused.  In Smoke Signals, the surrounding characters form that very image.  Sherman Alexie used humor as a way to express the negativity in Indian culture and life on the reservation. 

Smoke Signals Analysis

The movie Somke Signals appeared to be about a boy trying to find himself, but there was a lot of symblism and metaphores that gave the movie deeper meaning. The first metaphore that started early on in the movie was the symbol of fire. When Thomas' house burned down when he was a baby, it set up a metaphore where Thomas said "some kids are born from fire and some are born from ash." This is a metaphore for Victor, who is the fire, and Thomas, who is the ash. Victor is viewed as fire because he is a strong and angry all the time. Thomas is considered ash because he is frail and weak. Another metaphore that relates to Thomas being considered ash is the fact that when his house burned down he survived, but his family and his home were gone, which could show that he, metiphorically, burned in that house too and part of him is in those ashes.
Looking at symbols in the movie, basketball seemed to be a very important one. Our first encounter with Victor is him playing basketball, being very aggressive and tough. Throughout the movie basketball games are a recurring theme. Victor's dad tells a story about how they played a very intense game of basketball when Victor was young and becasue of Victor they won in the last minute. This story turned out to be exaggerated, but it was symbolic because it was his dad's way of trying to make amends for all the things he did to his family.

This movie also shares a lot of parallels to Sherman Alexie's novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. One of these parallels is also thy symbol of fire. In both the movie and the book fire kills Thomas' parents and Junior's sister, taking people that were major figures in their lives. The fire's also show a parellel becuase they were both alcohol-related, which seems to be a common theme in Native American literature. Also, in both of them the fires come back to haunt them. In the novel, the fire haunts Junior and keeps causing him to blame himself for his sister's leaving and her death. In the movie, the fire keeps coming back to haunt Arnold Joseph, who accidentally started it during the party. The memory haunts him so badly that it drives him to leave his family and live in a constant state of drunkenness.

The movie vs the book

In “Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian” they lived near Spokan, and in “Smoke Signals” they also went to Spokan.  The location of the two stories matches up pretty well.  Also, Junior was nerdy.  Even in his comics he drew himself as a nerd with big glasses and he was tall and thin.  In the movie Tomas was very nerdy looking, with long braids and big glasses.  I think they match up because both characters are representing the same person.  Sherman Alexie, who wrote both stories, must have looked like that when he was younger.  Alexie threw some of him into the book and the movie by where he lived and what he really looked like.  Another thing that really matched up was the comics and the stories.  In the book Junior wrote comics, and in the movie Tomas told stories all the time.  The friend too, Victor, was the rebel type complete opposite of Tomas, and Victor had an abusive and drunk father.  In the book Junior was best friends with Rowdy, a kid with an abusive father and was completely opposite of Junior.

There were a lot of similarities, but there were also a lot of differences.  The biggest difference was Junior moved off the reservation when Tomas stayed where he was.  I think Alexie was taking both sides of the Indians options and showing what would happen in both.  Junior ended up losing his reservation friends because he was trying to move on with his life, where Tomas only became closer friends with Victor because he stayed on the reservation.  There are only two things an Indian can do, stay on the reservation, or leave it.  I think Alexie did a good job showing the two different sides.

Smoke Signals

Smoke Signals addresses many different Native American stereotypes. They not only addressed the issue of alcoholism on the reservations, but also the very appearance of Native Americans. This part was very clearly and obviously demonstrated when Victor told Thomas that he was not being a “real” Indian. He tells him to undo his braids and let his hair down, because their hair is what sets them apart from the white people. He also tells him he needs to “loose the suit” in an attempt to dress more casual. Victor also tells Thomas that he needs to look more stoic. The idea of looking stoic includes him not smiling as much, which we all would agree was very difficult for Thomas, and looking either deep in thought or angry. Victor tried to prove to Thomas that having such a stoic look would guarantee that the white people would not walk all over them, but failed to prove his point when his “look” could not get them their seats back on the bus.

Not only does this film do a great job of presenting Native American stereotypes, but so did The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Both of these stories had many similarities. From the main characters both being completely nerdy with aggressive friends, to the point of the stories being similar. Both of the characters go through the entire story on a mission to find themselves. While Junior is trying to make more of his life than the rest of his family has by breaking stereotypes and going to a white school, Victor is trying to find closure in his father’s disappearance and death and find what it means to him to be a “real” Indian. While Junior is on his mission, he is drawing cartoons; a lot of his cartoons though have a bit of drama to them, stretching the truth a little. Which is very similar to Thomas’ stories. They are partially true, but the truth has obviously been stretched.

Smoke Signals Reflections

                 I believe that the role of storytelling in the film lies within the stereotypes of Native American Indians. When people think of Indians, (or maybe it’s just me) they think of a bunch of old wise men sitting around the fire telling stories and smoking the peace pipe. I believe that this image of Indians is one of the reasons why the filmmakers used flashbacks and narration to tell the story of Victor’s life. They didn’t use this storytelling stereotype to offend the Indians, but they did it to more-or-less honor them.
                  I also believe that music plays a similar stereotypical role in the movie as well. When you think of Indians, you think of beating drums and chanting. In this movie you don’t exactly hear Indians chanting and drums beating, but I did heard something similar. The music that played was very loud and tribal sounding, giving a cool, driving background noise to the exciting parts of the movie.
                  I find these two stereotypes very interesting because I don’t really know what to make of them. I am not an Indian, but I personally don’t see how any of these qualities could be seen as offensive. When we watched The Searchers, the stereotypes they used were blatantly racist and offensive because they made Indians seem like savages. However, I believe in this movie, they didn’t portray Indians in a bad way at all through the storytelling or tribal sounding music. This was probably because they wanted the audience to be on the same side as Victor and Thomas. I liked that they used these stereotypes to show Victor and Thomas in a positive light, and make them seem like the underdogs who conquer their demons in the end. It was a refreshing change. 

Thoughts about Smoke Signals

Traditional symbols of mainstream America such as basketball and John Wayne were repurposed by the Native Americans in Smoke Signals. The basketball game that was Arnold and Victor against the Jesuits was turned into a battle of Christians versus Indians. Americans see basketball merely as a game for enjoyment while Arnold clearly interpreted it as more than that. In addition, John Wayne is an iconic character of American Westerns, people look up to him as a hero. The Native Americans however, would probably not view him in that way. Victor and Thomas sang a song about John Wayne’s teeth, making fun of him and demonstrating that they do not think of him as a hero, but as someone who can be mocked. It’s a little bit humorous to think that John Wayne is such an iconic American symbol, when the real Americans (Native Americans) view him in such a different light.  

Also, the movie addresses “real” Native Americans and stereotypical Native Americans. Victor tells Thomas that he needs to be a real Indian—which includes looking stoic. Thomas has to take out his braids to have loose hair, needs to smile less and look angrier, and trade his suit for more casual clothing. Even after all of these changes, Thomas still does not represent the typical Native American as Victor does, and I think that Thomas goes back to his braids and suit anyways; he doesn’t think it is necessary to fit a stereotype when he is naturally a Native American anyways. Victor cuts his long hair off toward the end of the movie. This action goes against the traditional look of the Native Americans, but it is what his father did also. In this way, both Arnold and Victor go against the stoic Native American ways. One other thing to add to the “real” Native American is that Victor’s dad drank a lot of alcohol. On real Indian reservations, there is a problem with alcohol consumption and drunkenness, which is comparable to how Arnold acts in Smoke Signals.


                In the movie “Smoke Signals”, the symbol of fire was very important.  It is key to understanding this symbol in order to fully understand the true meaning of the movie.  Throughout the movie, fire is seen and affects all of the characters greatly.

                First of all, the first time we see fire is when Arnold is saving Thomas from his burning house.  His parents die in this fire, but Thomas is thrown out the window and saved.  During this part Thomas is also narrating and comparing children to flames and ashes.  Thomas states, “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 when you touch them... Victor and me, we were children of flame and ash.”  This really gives a key insight into what flames mean.    You can see this comparison throughout the whole movie with the two boys.  Victor always seems to have an anger issue (mostly because his father left him) and Thomas just has such a sensitive and caring soul.  It seems fitting that Thomas is the ashes because he was in the fire and lost everything, therefore he’d be the end result of the fire and its destruction.  Victor is still the flame, because he has all of this anger pent up inside of him.  His fire is still raging on and until he can come to terms with this, he will never get to ashes.

                The other place that fire is seen is when Suzy Song burns down Arnold’s trailer.  I think that after Thomas’ parents died, Arnold kind of started to become ashes as well.  He was just breaking himself down, especially with his alcoholism, and finally he became ashes himself (being cremated).  The burning down of his trailer signifies this.  And, although this may be stretching it a bit... I feel as the burning of his trailer finally allowed him to become FLAMES again, after having been ashes for so long.  It was his last time at being strong and almighty flames.   It is also significant that Suzy gives the boys Arnold’s ashes, because this further strengthens the correlation.

                I really like the connection between fire between this movie and the book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”  In that book, the main character also lost a significant family member due to alcohol and fire.  I think, due to the connection with the alcohol, the fire signifies the lost hope of the Native Americans and also just their pure anger at how society still is towards them as a culture and a heritage.

                Overall, I really think that the symbol of the fire, flames and ashes really help to strengthen the movie and helps us understand the characters and their pain even more.  Underlying messages are usually always the strongest and have the most impact on us as viewers.

Smoke Signals

There was a lot of things in Smoke Signals that I noticed when it came to how white people treated Indians and vise versa, that also matched The Searchers.  The first thing I noticed was the Victor told Thomas about how he need to stop smiling and be serious in order for white people to take him seriously. Then he also tells him he needs to lose his braids and get rid of the suit and dress like a normal Indian, basically saying that in order for a white person to take you seriously, you have to both look normal and have a serious face. 

Another example of this came at the scene where Victor and Thomas got in the car accident.  The white guy was very impatient with both Victor and Thomas claiming they couldn't help, and also telling the cops that Victor tried to kill them by hitting them with his car, and then being drunk he also tried to assault them.  The cops didn't want to believe Victor in that what the guy was saying was a lie, but since the girl he was with told the cops he was an asshole for lying, they let both Victor and Thomas go.  So In this movie you can tell that there is definately competition between Indians and white people.

That fact runs true through many other things that happened in both this movie and the book, An Absolutely True Story, when it came to basketball games.  It's almost as if though they know they can't win in life against white people, so instead they try to turn to basketball because maybe from their logic, if they can beat them in basketball, they can beat them at one thing they claim to be best at, and that's enough for them to know.  For example when Victor's dad was describing to Suzy about the basketball game he and Victor played against white people, and he talked Victor up like he was the best and claimed they beat them, when in reality they didn't.

There are many similarities between these two stories, even when it came to alcohol and how Indians really did drink often.  When it came to the fires, that in the book Junior's sister died from a fire and in the movie Thomas's parents died from a fire, and both Junior and Thomas kinda played the same type of role in the movie to the book.

The role of the past

            The past plays an important role in shaping both Victor’s and Thomas’s future. Smoke Signal’s opening scene demonstrates the importance of the past and how it has played a role in who Victor and Thomas have become as a result of the fire.  The fire that took Thomas’s parent’s lives and almost took Thomas’s, took something from Victor’s dad as well. The fire left a lasting impression, not just on Thomas, but on Victor and his family.  Victor's dad was the one who started the fire, and for the rest of his life he dealt with the guilt of it because he didn't know how to tell anyone. This is what lays out the path Victor follows on his way to forgiving his father. The past outlines the movie and lays the groundwork for Victor and his journey, both physically and metaphorically.
            The past not only provides the audience with background of the events in the movie, but also allows the characters in the movie to reflect on the past and why their lives are the way they are. If it wasn’t for the flashbacks provided throughout the movie, the audience wouldn’t really understand what was going on.  The past is more important than the present, because the past and the events that occurred in it are what make Victor and Thomas who they are in the present. It has a direct impact on their present and their future.  Victor’s dad is haunted by the past and can’t seem to break through his memories that he has of his horrible past. He was responsible for the death of Thomas’s parents and his only escape from the past is through alcohol. When he is drinking, he can disappear from the world and the guilt he feels for the fire, for his failures in life, and for not taking care of Victor the way a father should.
            Victor’s father’s past and his alcoholism have a direct correlation to the way Victor grows up and his angry attitude towards everything.  He can’t seem to forgive his father for leaving him and giving him no explanation as to why he did what he did.  Victor never really knew what made his father leave, and I think a part of him thinks it was his fault because the last time they saw each other, Victor was throwing away all his beer.  Victor undergoes this journey with Thomas and inadvertently learns just how he can overcome the anger he feels towards his father. Through storytelling, another important aspect to Smoke Signals, and flashbacks, Victor is able to piece together the past and overcome the hatred he feels towards his father and move on.



The Stoic American Indian

The scene that stuck out most to me was the scene where
Victor tells Thomas that he’s not “Indian enough”. I kind of laughed at this
because they’re clearly, already Native American. Thomas has to “free his hair”
and look more stoic and mean. I immediately thought of the class discussion
where we talked about how Hollywood and the media have shaped actual Native
Americans into something they’re not. Grouping all the different cultures and
traditions into one stereotypical red-injun. Victor tells Thomas that he has to
look like he’s just come back from a buffalo hunt, to which Thomas responds
that their tribe never hunted buffalo instead they fished.
relates to The Absolutely True Diary
in that Arnold always thought that he had to “look tough” or people thought he
must’ve looked mean. He’s the one Native American that has to stand up to this
entire school of white-men. Early on in the book Arnold describes himself as this
too skinny, big headed, thick glasses wearing Indian. He made fun of himself;
this creates extra humor because when we think of a Native American person we do
in fact see the stoic Indian, with the feather headdress and buckskin chaps. It’s
ironic to think that Native Americans also picture themselves in such a way.

Terrence Straight

Magic Indians

     One theme that the makers of Smoke Signals seemed to stress throughout the movie was the role of magic and mysticism in Native American culture. The importance of magic is reinforced to Victor repeatedly; Arlene magically feeds 100 Indians with her fry bread, Arnold says Victor was magical during the game with the Jesuits, Suzy Song tells Victor his dad was a magician, and Victor sees his dad tell him in a flashback that "it's all about magic and faith." There is also some mysticism surround the scene when Suzy burns up Arnold's trailer. Victor's truck won't start until Suzy lights the sage and torches the trailer, at which point Victor's truck comes alive. It's as if Victor is stalled until Suzy burns away the bad history in that trailer - some kind of magical cleansing ritual that allows Victor to move forward, literally and figuratively.
     Both Smoke Signals and Absolutely True Diary invoke the idea of magic during the basketball games described in each one. In Diary, Arnold uses magic and the spirits of his ancestors to explain how he is able to jump higher than Rowdy in the big game. In Smoke Signals, Victor's dad makes no bones about saying it was magic that made his son play the way he did. He insinuates that the one time the Indians were able to get the best of white people it was because of the magic that Indians possessed.
     Sherman Alexie and the rest of the filmmakers seem to be using magic to represent the strong connection to the spirit world that Indians have traditionally had. In both the book and the film, Alexie uses magic to explain how his protagonists are able to succeed beyond their wildest dreams, both times in a basketball game. In Diary he specifically mentions the spirits of Arnold's recently deceased friends and family as contributing factors to his greatness. He appears to be stressing the importance of a belief in higher power(s) of some kind to his readers and viewers, and it he seems to believe it is of particular importance to his culture.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I think one of the biggest connections was with the stereotypes.  Especially that Indians were alcoholics and were poor.  This is true for both of these stories.  For Junior (Arnold Spirit), his family was poor, his whole reservation was poor.  In Smoke Signals, Thomas even says that they don't need money on the reservation.  This is because every one is so poor that it doesn't matter anyways.  They are capable of getting by with what little they have.
Another connection was with alcoholism.  Both Junior, and Victor's fathers were alcoholics.  A lot of their family members were too.  People in both the book and the movie have died by alcohol.  In the book, Eugene was killed by a drunk driver.  In Smoke Signals, Thomas' parents were killed by a house fire, that was started by a Victor's father, who was drunk. 

Another connection is basketball.  I believe that both Victor and Junior had something to prove when they played.  When Junior played, he had to prove that he was doing something with his life.  That he wanted to better himself, and gain hope for himself.  He was fighting for his future, so he could get out of the useless, alcoholic, Indian stereotype.  He had to beat that stereotype, so maybe people could believe that Indians do have a future if they put an effort towards it.  For Victor, basketball was a little different.  He was trying to make his father proud of him.  He wanted his father's love and attention.  Victor wanted his father to believe in him.  But also, Victor and his father were competing against 2 white guys.  So they were also fighting for themselves, and for their culture.  They wanted to show to those guys that they weren't hopeless or failures.  They wanted to show that they could do something right, and that they could be as good as the whites are.  Victor and his father wanted to beat the white people at their own game.  Basketball was a sense of pride and identity for both Junior and Victor. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Questions for Considering _Smoke Signals_

Below are some questions for thought as you watch Smoke Signals and compose your blog post. 
  1. What is the role of storytelling in this film? What kind of authority does it have? What do you think the film is saying about the difference between stories and “the truth”?
  2. A good deal of the film takes place in the past, either through Victor’s flashbacks or Thomas’s stories. What is the role of the past in the film?
  3. The film often addresses the stereotype of the stoic and “real” Native American. What physical attributes are tied into this stereotype, and how to the characters in the film reinforce or defy this image?
  4. How are traditional symbols of mainstream America (e.g. basketball , John Wayne) repurposed by Native Americans in the film?
  5. In the film, fire burns down both Thomas’ childhood home and Victor’s father’s unused trailer. What is the significance of the matching fires and what do they symbolize? What other places or symbols in the film repeat and occur in both the flashbacks and the present?  How does this connect to fire in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?
  6. The title of the film was changed to Smoke Signals from “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”. What do you think the director is trying to say about the significance of smoke signals in this film? What about communication in general?
  7. What connections do Smoke Signals' characters, themes, and events have to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?
  8. Music has a very central place film, both through characters singing or playing instruments and the additional soundtrack. Were there any musical selections in the film that stood out to you, and why?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Critical Interpretation

After the screening of the “The Searchers”, I noticed a few themes that were valid in developing the storyline as well as character development. As the story unravels, the same themes that are essential in having a well-rounded story are the same ideas that contribute to what we interpret as a stereotypical western film. For example, the role of an “American hero” is apparent in Ethan’s character. As we discussed in class, John Wayne is generally portrayed as the hero in films he is featured in resulting in the American hero theme to be reoccurring. At the same time, the American hero theme creates the foundation in which the storyline builds off. This evidence led me to believe the story was being told through Ethan’s point of view. His lack of remorse for murder, fearfulness, individualism, and elitist attitude are all character traits that made the storyline revolve around his actions.
Indians were represented negatively throughout the entire film. The Indians were responsible for the destruction of the Edwards home, the death of Martha and Lucy, Debbie’s conformity to Indian culture and most importantly provided the fuel for Ethan and Martin’s dangerous quest. Some of the key features mentioned by Kilpatrick were seen in the film. The idea of prey vs. predator is evident during the battles that occur between whites and Indians. The Indians were often silent or did not speak English which Kilpatrick categorized as a reoccurring theme in Native American film. Headdresses were common in the film even though traditional Indians did not often wear them.   The theme of miscegenation is seen early in the film. Martin is judged by Ethan when he admits to being part Cherokee.
Despite the fact Ethan and Martin were together for the majority of their search, I believe their intentions were completely different. Martin tended to be more interested in finding Debbie and Lucy compared to Ethan whose main focus was finding Scar. Revenge motivated Ethan rather than the savior aspect that motived Martin. My main question throughout the film was what drove Ethan to want vengeance when his main focus should be on finding Lucy and Debbie. This may be a long shot, but think about it. Ethan was in love with Martha, whose death drove Ethan to seek revenge on the one responsible, Scar. Evidence for this is seen when Ethan keeps Lucy’s death from the rest of the group. If the main goal of the quest was to find Lucy, Ethan would have opened his mouth immediately after he found her. Instead, he wanted to continue to search for Scar and also created false hope for the rest of the group. Another observation that adds relevance to my theory is Ethan’s irritability when Martin refers to Debbie as his sister. Ethan becomes defensive and demands Martin to stop, despite the fact he was raised by the Edwards’s. This creates the idea that Debbie could be the child of Ethan and Martha. When Ethan first finds Debbie his first instinct was to kill her. The second time he finds her, he holds back his hatred and doesn’t kill her when he had the chance. Throughout the film Ethan shows no remorse for killing Indians, except when he finds Debbie. His love for Martha is also displayed when he noticed her hair on Scar’s collection of scalps. Ethan then gained vengeance by killing Scar and scalping him, as Scar did to Martha. 

The Searchers

John Wayne’s character, Ethan, intrigued me the most. I think because he should have been more prone to racism considering he fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War because racism played a large role in the War. However, he was friendly with the Hispanic people Martin and him encountered on their way to finding the girl. He also displayed a great deal of sympathy towards “Look” when she had been found dead.
Ethan was supposed to be a tough guy, barely showing emotion, but he seemed to progressively become more sensitive and kind as the film went on. While, the film from time to time portrayed that he wanted to kill/ do away with Lucy once he found she had assimilated into the Native’s culture/lifestyle. Yet, she was still a part of his family and Ethan seemed relieved to have found her alive so I doubt that he would have killed her at all. (Especially since he had spent a great deal of time trying to find her.)
Some others mentioned this before, but it was a good point how the “Savage” and the “Wise-Civil” Native were portrayed in The Searchers. Scar portrayed both, effectively to how the media would have wanted him to be. They gave him a reason for his revenge, about his sons, but it was still shown that he was over doing his pay back.
Something, I always think about too, though, when watching these types of movies, is that they were made to bring in money and to sell to the audiences. I’m not saying what the industry was doing was right, but movies need the antagonist and the protagonist and at the time it was the Natives and the Caucasian Americans.  

Through Martin's eyes

I think the story is told through Martins’s perspective, I think this because it’s always following what he does like during the scene when Ethan killed the two guys trying to steal their money.  If it was Ethans perspective we would have seen the whole thing getting set up.  Instead it goes dark when Martin goes to sleep and it gets bright right before they start shooting.

I would have to say that I relate more to Ethan than Martin however.  Ethan goes after what he wants and things have to go his way.  While Martin doesn’t know what he wants and is just along for the adventure.


I found it interesting that they used both the noble Indian and the savage Indian.  Scar representing the savage Indian, while Martin although only being an 1/8 Indian representing the Noble Indian.  I find that Ethan's attitude towards Martin plays a bigger role in pushing Martin to become a better man.  Although Ethan is very racist, and mean to Martin, its all to push him further to finding Debbie.

Family and Integration in The Searchers

What struck me in The Searchers, beside the bombardment of blatant racism, dated acting (by which I mean the humor in calling John Wayne the most subtle actor in this film), and awkwardly written scenes, was the theme of integration in regards to Martin and Debbie through the eyes of Ethan.
Ethan can be seen as a begrudging father figure to Martin, a man of mixed heritage. Martin is Ethan’s only family for most of the film, and yet Ethan cannot easily accept Martin as such. Were Martin entirely white, this familial dynamic would be entirely unstrained. However, Ethan is opposed to anything not white (perhaps reminiscent of his Confederate alliance), and he only tolerates Martin because all but his Indian blood is erased from him—lucky for Martin, who in turn is the butt of all jokes, instead of murdered on the spot. Only over the long search for Debbie do the pair develop a, albeit awkward, father-son relationship.
Similarly, Debbie’s life depends entirely on her ability to integrate as well. The Comanche tribe allows her to live due to her young age at the time of her abduction, whereas her sister was too old and thus too white to be dissolved into the tribe. They see her as, not the evil of white culture, but as something innocent to be taught the correct way.  Ethan in turn doesn’t kill her solely because he believes she can be re-integrated back into white society, again as the innocent child, merely confused by her abductors, and can be fixed to be right once more.
When it comes to the family dynamic, Ethan will always love Debbie--easily. She is his biological family, Indian only by upbringing, which can be expelled from her over time back home. Martin’s blood cannot be fixed, regardless of the fact he is perfectly, culturally white. Ethan’s idea of family ends in blood, despite the development of his relationship with Martin, in particular writing Martin into his will. Martin and Debbie, however, display some sort of hope. They love each other unconditionally, given they are both familiar with the integration process, and would clearly do anything for each other, regardless of whether they are white, Indian, or anything different; they are family.

Viewing Ethan in Two Mindsets

The character of Ethan has many traits that today might make him seem like he would be the villain of the movie "The Searchers" rather than a hero.  If he is viewed with what people consider to be the norm today, Ethan appears to be a racist towards Native Americans, and more subtly, towards Northerners.  He even makes comments toward his own blood relatives by saying "they are not white anymore" when they are held captive by the Native Americans for any length of time.  He is also violent towards people in ways such as slapping them for attention or punching them if they do not listen to him, two acts a hero would not normally take.  When it comes to taking action, he tends to focus only on what he seems to think is right and believes that what he believes is what others should believe.  Usually, a hero will obey what is thought to be right while having internal conflict over pondering if it truly is.  Instead, Ethan portrays himself as an outcast with only his interests in mind only to prove otherwise in the final scene.  Therefore, by today's standards, he is more or less a villain throughout the movie but redeems himself at the end.

However, looking at Ethan from the perspective of viewers when the movie came out in 1956 (viewing it in its setting of the 1860's in Texas), Ethan may very well be considered a hero throughout.  The idea of a hero was rather different in that time period.  He would not be widely viewed as a racist but rather as a normal member of the former Confederacy.  His loner attitude made him a hero in the sense that he works for no one but himself and does what he wants, contributing to the mystic of his true feelings.  Actions such as murdering the man he paid to get advice from only to get his investment back would still be seen as wrong, but as a character, it makes him seem like a true rebel that one could not be certain if they could trust him or not.  He may seem to have a know-it-all to us, but as for the films setting, it means that he has been through so much in his life that he truly knows situations and how to handle them.  With all this in mind, it is easy to see why their is such great debate over Ethan being a hero or a villain. 

Kilpatrick's Key Features in The Searchers

            Many of Kilpatrick’s “key features” of American Indian film were presented in The Searchers. Camera angles and music were used throughout the movie to emphasize characters and upcoming events. The time frame of the movie and the movie’s setting reflected Kilpatrick’s key features as well. In addition, many stereotypes of American Indians were portrayed in the film.
            John Wayne, or Ethan in the movie, is considered the hero. Many times throughout the movie the camera looks up at Ethan, making him seem big, strong or powerful, such as a hero might be. Upbeat music and the sound of horns indicate invasion in the movie. Also, there is a sort of music that depicts despair when characters die in the movie. Though The Searchers was made in 1956, it was set in 1868, time of the frontier. This concept is very popular among Westerns and American Indian films. Another common feature of The Searchers to Western film was its setting. It took place in the open desert.  There was large range of sight throughout the desert as well as canyons and rock walls. The key feature in The Searchers with the most emphasis was definitely stereotypes of American Indians. American Indians throughout the movie had face paint, wore feathers and feathered head dresses, they were great on horseback, lived in teepees, and practiced scalping, portraying them as savages.

"The Searchers" Analysis

My thoughts about watching a western film were hesitant since most follow the same plot line. Indians are the senseless corrupt guys and the Whites are the keen hero’s.  “The Searchers” wasn’t as bad as I anticipated but it’s still a wonder why it was favored by Steven Spielberg.  There were many points of conflict and times of anticipation that kept me watching even though a lot of scenes were expected.  It started with Uncle Ethan surprising his family with a visit.  Everyone reacts ecstatically and anyone could tell at that point that the well-respected Ethan is the hero of the film.  The camera always centers him and the video is shot from either his level or shooting up which represents Ethan to be a powerful persistent character. 
            On the opposite spectrum, the view on the Indians role in the film hinted to be the direct definition of savages.  In every way they are thought to be ruthless and cruel.  They killed Ethan’s family and burned down there house only to spare the little girl, Debbie.  They scalped the family and left them to rot.  Throughout the film, the stereotypes of Native Americans were plentiful.  They all were experts on horses, wore headbands and leather clothing with feathers attached to everything.   When Ethan’s search group were being chased by the Comanche, the first shot showed them to as being closely followed but then the next shot showed them to be a good 300 feet ahead.  This emphasizes that Ethan is untouchable and the White men were unstoppable.  When Ethan went to search for Debbie where the white man captivated the 14 year old white girls from the Indians, they were shown to be mentally disturbed.  Ethan commented saying “it was hard to believe they were White”.  The Indians were thought to be stupid and since the girls lived with them, they turned to be mentally unstable as well.   Another scene in the film that expresses negative stereotypes of Indians is when Pauly unknowingly acquires a wife by trading the Indian tribe with a hat.  The fact that the father of that woman gave her daughter away with a hat, emphasis’s the stupidity of Native Americans in the film.  
            The women in the film were very much shown to be different.  The men could fight but the women had to be inside and the search team consisted of men while the women waited at home.  The White women are thought of to be useless, weak, and innocent.  They were the stereotypical housewives who never had a speck of dirt on them or a drop of sweat. 
            Overall, I thought the film was decent.  I could expect much of what was going to happen but it was still interesting to see how the director went about expressing all of the stereotypes. The timeline in the movie was terrible because it made no note to show that time has passed.  Usually seasons express a change in time, but in the movie it snowed one day and was incredibly hot the next. The plot line was also confusing because it left moments in the film unanswered.  I don’t think I would watch this movie again, but I would recommend it to someone who wants to see a movie with a high amount of stereotypes toward Indians.

The Searchers

The main thing that I saw in the movie The Searchers, was the stereotypes of the Indians, Cowboys, and
where everything took place.
The Indians were portrayed asthe savages who killed for fun. They wear the feathers and head bands or head dresses. They have red or dark skin color. They speak in there own language as well as english.They ride horses and shoot with bows and arrows, maybe a gunonce or twice. They live in teepees or huts not houses. Pretty much all the different stereotypes there are for indians. Same goes for the cowboys. They hate the indians, and they kill them once they see them. They are usually seen as the heros. They all ride horses and they all  have guns and ride in pride when theyhunt down the indians.The movie takes place in the middle of the desert surrounded by mountains and valleys.

I thought that the movie was very stereotypical, but it also shows how we saw indians and cowboys at that time.

Indian Portrayal

A main thing I noticed in “The Searchers” was the portrayal of Indians.  Ethan and Martin Paulie came into contact with a couple different Indian tribes on their journey.  Every time they were coming up on an Indian tribe the drums started to beat and a flute would whistle.  I found that to be very stereotypical of Indians, because in movies it’s known that the drums and flute is symbolizing Indians.  Along with the music, all of the Indians lived in teepees, rode horses, and wore big feathered headbands.  The film industry has portrayed Indians in such a way, that every tribe looks the same so it’s easy for the viewer to know they are Indians.  Not only did the Indian tribes look intimidating, but they were also very offensive.  The Indians in “The Searchers” were always on the attack, so if a villager turned around for any length of time, they could be under siege from an indian attack.  The chief Scar had kept scalps, and live hostages.  In the readings and in the movie “Reel Injun” they mentioned that Indians were not mean and didn’t like to attack people.  They were not war going people.
The Indians were very flat characters and the only way they had depth was the view of the cameras, and the fact they had some feelings.  Scar was smart enough to keep Debbie as a live hostage, because he didn’t want to kill a little girl, and knew Ethan and Martin Paulie would find them to get Debbie back.  When the group with the reverend went to find Indians with their guns, the Indians retreated back because they knew they couldn’t win.  Along with actual depth the camera angles gave them depth to the viewer.  The camera viewed Ethan from the camera looking up at him, when the Indians were viewed it was looking down, to make them look small. 
A western make Indians look bad, and gives the interpretation of Indians being the bad guys and all the tribes look alike.  I am not a fan of westerns; I never have been because I don’t like the whole cowboy and Indian portrayal.  I have seen other westerns, and to me you see one you see them all. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

“…But what that Comanche believes, ain't got no eyes, he can't enter the spirit-land. Has to wander forever between the winds.”  This quote, stated by the main character, Ethan, in “The Searchers” right after he shot an (already dead) Comanche Indian in the eyes, shows how these native people were portrayed during Western films and how the white race treated them.  Through the use of savage images, precise cinematic tactics, and the portrayal of the “invincible” lone ranger, this movie brings about a controversy on how Native Americans really were in the 1800’s and also how gender roles were during this time period.

                First of all, “The Searchers”, overall, depicted the Native Americans (the Comanche in particular) to be savage murderers. Already from the beginning this is seen- the Native Americans stole ranchers’ cattle and killed them with a lance.  They are also dressed in typical “war” clothes with large headdresses and war paint.  Next, the white men impersonate the “noises” of the Indians, making fun of them in any way possible.  Even the Comanche leader, Scar, is portrayed as evil by having the grotesque battle wound lacerated across his face.  Another thing that shows us that the Native Americans are seen in a harsh light is when Ethan treats Martin like trash basically the whole movie because he’s a “half-breed.”  Even being 1/8 Cherokee is a disgrace to Ethan; he won’t even consider Martin family despite the fact that Martin has been there for Debbie and her family for longer than Ethan has.   

                Going along with the idea that white men (and Ethan in specific) reigned over the Native Americans, the cinematography of the movie really strengthened the ideals of the savage.  When showing Ethan, the camera angle is usually tilted up towards him, symbolizing his ruling strength and domineering attitude.  He is large-and-in-charge and he knows it!  Another thing that strengthens this idea is when the music plays.  When we are shown Ethan, the music gets quiet so that we focus on only him.  However, most of the time when the Native Americans are being shown, the music is loud and angry and makes us associate this anger with them as a whole.  These tactics make it so that we think Ethan is the good guy, and the natives are just savages.  But are they really?

                Besides the Native Americans being shown as savages, women are also portrayed in a very specific way.  Women in this Western are shown as helpless and innocent.  At the beginning of the movie when the Native Americans are about to come and set the house on fire, the mother just acts all helpless and gives up.  Also, the main conflict of the movie is that Debbie has been stolen and Ethan and Martin spend the whole movie trying to get her back.  However, is it really true that the women are so helpless?   From the beginning, Debbie didn’t even seem afraid when the Native American came and took her.  Also, when Ethan finally found her, she didn’t want to come back with them.  She was immersed in the Comanche culture and she belonged to their people.  She wasn’t savage at all either-she still spoke perfect English and knew what was going on.  I think this shows that anything is possible if you are strong-willed and defiant.

                As is apparent, although Native Americans are portrayed as “savage” and women are seen as “weak and helpless”, this isn’t always the case.  Although in some circumstances this may ring true, most of it may simply just be that Western film producers simply want to give the audience what they want:  romance, a strong, stubborn lone ranger, and blood and gore and ravaging beasts (the Native Americans).  Whatever may be the case, rest assured that these producers are going to use whatever they can to give us what we want, whether it be through carefully though-out cinematic qualities, savage imagery, or simply by having a guy as good looking as John Wayne be the star of the show!

Thoughts about The Searchers

While Westerns aren’t usually my favorite genre of movies, The Searchers was interesting and eventful enough that it captured my attention. It contained the usual things that these sorts of movies include: Indians, who are the bad guys of the movie, and Americans, who are the good guys. There is stereotyping of the Indians through their clothing, feathers, houses, faulty weapons, and horses. I don’t think that the Indian characters were portrayed fairly; their characters had little depth and seem to be incapable of outsmarting the white men. It is unfair that movies such as this depict Native Americans as not being as smart as the Americans.
            In addition, gender roles were prevalent in the movie as well. Women were seen as the ones who prepared meals and cleaned the house. When the Indians attacked the family in the house, they killed the parents and the son, but kidnapped the two girls. I’m not sure exactly why they were taken and not just killed, but it may have to do with the fact that they would be able to act as maids for the Indians, or they just didn’t want to kill young girls. The search parties were always made up of men; women were not allowed to join them. This shows that women were not seen as useful or able to do dangerous things. Gender roles in this movie are typical of what I would expect from a movie made in 1956, and also typical of the time period that was portrayed in the movie.

Something I didn’t understand about the movie, though, was why Ethan wanted to shoot Debbie when they found her with Chief Scar. They had spent all of those years looking for her and hoping she was alive, and then he wanted to kill her. Was it just because she had been living with the Indians for so long and called them “her people”? Another confusing aspect of the movie was the way time passed. The filmmakers did not do a very good job showing the viewer that years and years had gone by. If I was not made aware of this fact, I would have been incredibly confused. Overall though, I thought this was a pretty good movie and was even somewhat entertaining.

The Searchers

The movie “The Searchers” did like most Westerns portray many stereotypes of Native Americans.  They were in extreme contrast with the settlers.  Some examples include the tribe attacking and killing several of the family members and setting their house on fire, and then when they constantly tried to attack anyone who was following them.  The Natives were shown in a much more savage light, throughout the entire film.  The lighting, camera angles, and the music and sound effects that were associated with the Native Americans made them seem much more wild and violent than they really were in reality.  This film tends to show them as the more violent group, and at times they were, but Ethan and the men trying to find Debbie were much more violent, especially Ethan.  He killed Mr. Futterman just to get his money back and also he shot the already dead Indian, which is truly disrespectful.

Regarding Ethan, he showed great disgust for the Native Americans.  This is shown clearly as he spends the majority of the film hunting down the tribe that killed his family and kidnapped his niece.  The way the plot lays out you would believe that he is going after them for revenge, but once he sees Debbie and realizes the woman she has become he wants to kill her, his own niece.  He has a great hate towards these people and there is really nothing that will stop him.  He also shows this dislike when he is with Martin, who is born a Native American and adopted into the settle family.  Though throughout the whole film Ethan will not accept that an Indian is part of his family, he does not accept Martin and does not let Martin say that he wants to find Debbie because she is family.  All of this hatred towards the Native Americans builds suspense until the end of the film when Ethan has a change of heart and instead of killing Debbie, saves her and brings her back home.  It helps to portray Ethan as the hero in the film, and truly classifies it as a Western.

"The Searchers" Movie Analysis by Katelyn :)

I’ve seen John Wayne movies before, but I’ve never really analyzed them like this and really thought about what I was watching. This time when I watched “The Searchers” in class it gave me a whole new outlook on not only westerns, but also movies depicting cowboys and Indians in general.
In this movie one of the biggest things that I noticed was how much John Wayne, or his character Ethan is idolized. Even if he does something his family and friends don’t agree with, they still respect him and his decisions the most. They believe what he is doing is right and for the good of the family. I also notice that by watching this movie in 2012 we can see how dated this movie is because Ethan can get away with saying things that are extremely racist and sexist. However, despite the fact that he’s being close-minded and unreasonable, at the end of the movie we still see him as the hero as well. One of the main reasons we see him as the hero is because of how the movie is filmed. Every time Ethan is on screen the camera is being pointed up at him, making him seem like a tall, almost Godly figure. Also every time Ethan says something racist or sexist, it all seems like tough love. We know he loves those girls and we reason with the fact that he hasn’t managed to shoot Martin just yet, so deep down he must really like him enough to keep him around and not mean the things he’s saying about him.
Contrasting Ethan in this movie is the Indian tribes. In this movie, Ethan sees all Indians as equals, meaning they are all savages, no matter what tribe they actually belong to. Because we see Ethan as the hero, not because he is actually the good person here, but because for the most part he is a civilized human being much like our own,  we associate ourselves with him and are more likely to then see the Indians as the enemy just like him. But that’s beside the point here, now to get back on track. Whenever you see an Indian on screen, they are accompanied with some dramatic and spooky, tribal-sounding drum beats. Also the cameraman films them from a straight on, more upfront and aggressive stance, and not from down low like he does with Ethan. Believe it or not this little camera trick makes a huge difference as to how we perceive the Indians in the movie.
From the movies projected “stance” of the filmmakers we are also lead to believe that the Indians are savages as well. This is probably because we are simply not allowed to see their side of the story. When Ethan kills someone, he flat out tells us why he killed them and why it was the right thing to do. When an Indian kills someone, we just see a dead body and nothing more.  The Indians in the movie are not given a voice, so as the “jury” in this situation we are left to see them as the villain.
It’s unfortunate that the observations above are all common themes throughout movies like these, because they have left the image of the American Indian very skewed for future generations.

My thoughts on The Searchers

I thought that the movie was extremely interesting. Everything in it seemed well thought out. The characters were very typical like the Indians and cowboys. They did everything that you hear about. They fought against each other and tried to protect what belonged to them and their families.
I also thought that it was very interesting how months and years could pass in between scenes. It sort of made me wonder why they skipped so long in between, and what the purpose of doing that was. The ending for me was very surprising. I didn't think that Ethan and Martin Pauly were going to find Chief Scar and Debbie to bring her back to the community. It was pretty funny when Martin Pauly thought he was trading hats and items for a blanket from Indians but really got himself a wife. I also didn't expect Martin Pauly to get into a fight over Laurie on her wedding day. The one thing about that didn't surprise me about it was that Martin won and got to have Laurie.
Overall it thought this movie was very interesting and it wasn't a movie that could lose your attention easily. There was always something going on and some type of action that kept everything flowing together. I would definitely watch this movie again someday just to understand the concepts better and because I really enjoyed it.

The Searchers Analysis

In this movie, the opposing sides were made obvious, in that it was made as more of a cowboys vs. indians movie.  In the beginning of the movie the family’s house was burned down and the indians killed some of the family members and kidnapped one as well.  From that point on anyone could tell which group was bad and which group was good.  Watching the movie from this point on you can tell what type of stereotypes popped up.  First of all the different types of music that was playing between when the cowboys were being shown and then the indians.  Anytime the cowboys were on the horses during a particular seen, it was very noble music being played, and you are able to tell which side is good and bad just by the sound of the music.  When the indian’s were in the picture, there would be drums playing and they would be screaming as they were riding their horses.  
Also, every person had their role, Ethan and Martin obviously with the main roles, but also everyone in their family had their part they had to play, even the daughter that was kidnapped and was only shown in the movie for a short while had an obvious role in it.  But looking at the roles of the indian’s, the only person who you really knew who they were, was the Chief.  The roles of the other indians in the movie were either very brief or non-existent, and most of them involved horses.  
Lastly, throughout the movie as soon as Ethan found out that the daughter was now an indian after they took her, he immediately wanted to kill her.  So now the bond that was formed between Ethan and Martin was almost broken because there was no way Martin would let Ethan kill her.  At the end of the movie when Ethan finally caught up to her, it didn’t look at all like he was trying to kill her, so I was wondering what was going on in his head, or what caused the change of mind.

A Few Thoughts About "The Searchers"

When I first began watching "The Searchers," I was not surpirsed much by the Stereotypes of Native American's that I saw right from the beginning. When Ethan first gets home his initial hostility towards Martin illustrates his overall feelings towards Native Americans. He constantly uses offensive terms, such as calling Martin a "half-breed." He also clearly gets enjoyment out of hunting and killing the Natives. He seeks out to get "revenge" for his family's death, but it seems pretty clear that he is getting some personal pleasure out of it too. The final example that perfectly illustrates how Ethan truthfully feels is when he says that Debbie would be better off dead than being part of the Native American culture and tribe.

In addition to Ethan harboing a hatred for Native Americans, there is also the way they are portrayed overall in the film. Throughout the whole movie they are shown to be savages. They want the audience to think that all they want to do is kill white people and try to ruin their lives. They also are always shown with feather headdresses, body paint, and speaking in a language that people can't understand. It was not at all surprising that they were portrayed this way because it was typical of Westerns during that time.

Overall, I have to admit that when I first started watching "The Searchers" I thought I was going to hate it, but I was actually surprised that I found myself interested as the story progressed. Despite the less than Grammy-worthy acting, the movie was pretty interesting and kept me wondering how it was going to end.

Analysis of "The Searchers"

         Throughout the movie “The Searchers”, the different aspects of cinematography mentioned by Kilpatrick and Simmon were made apparent.  When we would see Ethan, Martin, and the other men (in the beginning) searching for Lucy and Debbie they would be seen from a lower camera angle high up on their horses.  Almost every time you would see in men out searching for the girls they were up on their horses, riding fast, with the occasional heroic, positive music playing in the background.   But, when any of the Indians were in the scene we would get the opposite feeling.  It was made plain that they were the villain through the banging drum background music, angry expressions on their faces, and the tone they would have in their voices when they spoke (both in English and native tongue).  It was made known by the end of the movie who the heroes were supposed to be, and who the villains were supposed to be. 
        The characters that they story was being told through were mainly Martin and Ethan.  They would continue to search for Debbie through the entire movie until she was found.  From the beginning of the movie we get the feeling that the integration of Indians, or of anyone who associates with them may not happen.  Ethan makes it apparent to Martin, who is 1/8 Cherokee, that even though he was raised in the family he is still an Indian by blood.  It is made even more apparent, through Ethan again, when Debbie is found and they tell her to come with her and she refuses, saying that Comanche had now become her new family after all these years.  After this encounter, Ethan does show more acceptance to Martin by having him in his will if he were to die.  This leaves us thinking that Ethan will not want Debbie back, rather killed along with the other Comanche, because of what she said.  But, little do we know Ethan, and Martin, will continue to do everything they can in order to bring Debbie home to her real family, saving her life and not taking it.  This too may show that eventually the acceptance of Indians could happen, by the little step made of saving Debbie rather than killing her, or leaving her behind.