In Sherman Alexie and Chris Eyre’s film Smoke Signals, the authors examine the impact of alcohol on the Native American community. Victor and Thomas journey to Arizona from their small reservation to find the remains of Arnold, Victor’s father. Throughout the entire movie alcohol looms over like a shadowy figure, ready to ease all of the problems within the reservation. Alcohol is used as a motif to show the powerlessness of the Native American people.
Firstly, alcohol makes people speak recklessly. As the scene jumps from the present to the past, Arnold and Victor ride across the reservation in Arnold’s truck.. Because he is drunk, he is not thinking logically, and everything he says is what comes to his drunken brain. Although alcohol makes Arnold believe he has the power to “make anything disappear “ he has no actual power because the alcohol controls his life. This type of powerlessness in the face of alcohol is shown throughout Native American culture, and has become the main problem. In many Native American tribes, no matter how much they want to get rid of their drunken behavior, they still return to alcohol to solve their problems. The scene of Arnold and Victor in the truck uses the fast-cutting technique. The camera switches back and forth from Victor to Arnold. This technique not only shows the dialogue between Arnold and Victor, but it also shows the quick behavioral changes of Arnold. Arnold goes from a humorous father to a cruel and abusive alcoholic. Victor accidently drops the beer and Arnold hits him hard in the head. He valued the bottle of beer over his relationship with his son.Secondly, alcohol controls Native American gatherings. During a party at Victors house, every guest and even Victor’s parents are holding a bottle of beer. While everyone seems to be having a good time, Victor is the only one skeptical about the party because he is the only one not being controlled by the alcohol. As Arnold holds up a beer and asks Victor “who’s your favorite Indian,” Victor replies with “nobody.” Because he sees the true Native American problem of alcohol abuse, he does not want to look up to any Indian or else he will become part of this cycle. This social pressure is seen not only in Native American culture, but human culture as we try to persuade others to do what we do. Victor rejects these dangerous habits. This scene also uses panoramic perspective as it moves from right to left. Within each shot, there is always one person holding a beer and everyone else appears in a drunken state. This perspective shows the scope of the problem. Just like the party, which is bigger than one view, alcohol abuse is bigger than one reservation or one region. This movement shows the inability of Native Americans to comprehend the extent of their alcoholic problems.
Additionally, alcohol causes people to act carelessly. As Victor arrives in Arizona, he meets Suzy, a neighbor of Arnold. Suzy explains to Victor how his father was actually the person who started the fire that killed Thomas’ parents. Arnold runs around drunkenly in a cheerful manner and swings the firework in his hand. He sets off a flare inside the house and burns it down. His careless behavior and powerlessness in the face of alcohol ruins the life of child. This type of death through alcohol is shown throughout Native American culture and highlights the failure of the culture. This is also true in the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian when Mary and her husband die in their trailer due to a fire. Mary and her husband pass out in the back and someone forgets to turn off the stove. These actions highlight the reoccurring problems with alcohol. On the other hand, non-diegetic music plays in the background as Arnold burns down the house. This horror style music symbolizes the dangers ahead and Arnold’s incompetence because of alcohol.
Alcohol will control your life unless you take a stand. The only way to end this problem is to stay away from this addictive cycle, just as Victor did. He saw a problem and decided to fix it. Victor is the hero that stands up to the devil of alcohol and beats its temptations. He represents the children that will leave this cycle and get a better life.