Simple and elegant, Smoke Signals is a delicious, heady debut that lingers long after the tale is told.Unfortunately, it is rare to find films with all Native American casts and it’s especially rare to find one that has reached anything approaching a wide release.
One of the more significant differences presented was the house fire scene shown in the beginning of the film, which was a flashback from when Victor and Thomas were mere infants.
Thomas’ parents were trapped within the burning home, however Thomas managed to survive once his mother tossed him out the window to be heroically caught by Victor’s father; nonetheless, Thomas’ parents would burn to death.
What follows, then, is less road trip than voyage of discovery, that takes the unlikely partnership from the scrubby, hardscrabble reservation to the final resting place of their only real male authority figure, and beyond.
Eyre's film, which has a screenplay by Sherman Alexie and is based on stories from his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, isn't nearly as wearyingly downbeat as a capsule description might make it sound.
Smoke Signals is alight with oddball nuances and wry observations: the reservation's radio station, KREZ, uses a broken-down van at the deserted crossroads to gauge the (nonexistent) traffic conditions, and Victor's mother Arlene (Cardinal) is a master in the fine art of flatbread-making.
Subtle, lyrically haunting touches like these evoke a palpable sense of loss and the sub-poverty level of Native American life, but also unite the tribe – broken by alcohol and abuse though they may be – in long-held beliefs and rituals.
Symbolically, the excruciating journey represents the loyalty it entails between the two Native Americans in order to embark in such a difficult voyage together, and in due course their friendship is found in the ruins of everything.
The film didn’t necessarily alter the overall plot from the short story, but more so just accumulated on to the story while possessing an identical storyline.
So when news reaches the reservation that Arnold has died, he and Thomas set off to Arizona to retrieve his ashes.
The result is not only a road trip but a journey of bonding, healing and self-discovery.