American Freedom: An Essay on 'Smoke Signals'
Flames are often thought of in a positive way. Some people think of fire as a physical representation of the profound passions of the human spirit. Others like to associate fire with bravery and greatness. Even the Fourth of July is typically celebrated in America with fireworks. However, the application and meaning of fire in the beginning of the film Smoke Signals is far darker. Furthermore, the relation to the house fire in Smoke Signals to the fires of the Fourth of July is intentionally ironic.
The second scene of the film Smoke Signals introduces the audience to images of a house caught on fire. Those watching the movie learn that a very young Thomas Builds-the-Fire is the only person who was in the burning house to survive the incident. Both of Thomas’ parents are killed amidst the flames of their burning home.
Native Americans have had a painful history of losing their freedoms and liberties to the primarily European colonizers. In contrast, the Fourth of July is a day usually celebrated by these colonizer’s descendants as a day when autonomy was applied to America through greater freedom and increased liberty.
The Fourth of July is a day when American men, women, and children celebrate their American freedoms. One of the primary symbols of this aforementioned obtained freedom is the firework. Fireworks are beautiful displays of fire and sometimes of color.
Thomas Builds-the-Fire is of Native American descent and the fire that killed his parents occurred on the Fourth of July. The mentioned film places a great emphasis on the fire of Thomas’ youth as well as multiple references to the Fourth of July. Comparing young Thomas’ pain to the happiness partaken on the Fourth of July is no coincidence. The dichotomy of the fires is an intentional comparison, both artistic and political. Thomas’ pain is a symbol of the pains of the lost freedoms of his Native American ancestors. Additionally, the symbol of the brave, bright, and joyous American fire is a symbol of the achieved freedoms of the American colonists.
Many people prefer to imagine fire as something wonderful and awe inspiring. However, the film Smoke Signals makes this phenomenon seem much less appealing in when it is considered relative to certain perspectives. The movie gives the audience something that is intended in every way to be very ironic. Hopefully, following generations will never forget to remember that every light casts a shadow.
Smoke Signals. Directed by Chris Eyre, performances by Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer and Tantoo Cardinal, Lionsgate, 1998.
A Trailer For The Film 'Smoke Signals':
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© 2019 Alexander James Guckenberger