Smoke Signals

Avanzado 2 students are reading the screenplay of Sherman Alexie‘s “Smoke Signals” and they’ll be watching the movie. The book’s an easy read, according to some students because it’s mostly dialogues. They say it cannot take more than 4 hours to read. Others think it is a hard read till you get used to visualizing the scenes. What do you think? 
Please, feel free to comment both the screenplay and the movie whenever suits you best. You can also post your questions. If you are not any of the students in Av2 here in Getafe, you’re welcome to comment anyway. Just tell us how come you found out about this book!
I see some smoke signals in the distance… I’d better get going…
Wanna read more? Check out our thread “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian“.


19 responses to “Smoke Signals

  1. I’d like to say that I read the script and watched the movie and felt very happy about it. It’s not everyday you get the chance to “discover something new”. Smoke Signals has helped me find a different point of view.
    But I don’t want to talk about it just now, really. I just wanted to leave a link here, to my blog Dakota in Spain, where I also started a thread on this: (but you don’t have to post there too, of course – I just thought it might be helpful, because I’m linking to some YouTube videos with SS scenes) and to tell people reading this and interested in finding out about Indian people nowadays to check out the TP section devoted to that. The links in the previous message take you there!
    Happy 2009
    Hanhepi wi

  2. I’ve found the book not only enjoyable but also very interesting.

    About 12 years ago I was travelling in the US and passed by the places named in the book (Coeur d’Alene, Walla Walla…). I can remember very clearly the towns and the indians. I remember myself shopping some food amongst them, in a supermarket. I felt mainly UNEASY being there, as if I where entering someone else’s house without their permision. Probably they felt UNEASY with our presence, too.

    Typically there were many of them, about 8 or 10, sitting in the back of an old, dusty, noisy pick up. Exactly as described in the book. They bought mainly beEr. Maybe they were going to have a party, but I thought that they were ALL alcoholicS. They looked to me dirty, dusty, unhealthy and, I have to admit, a little untrustful.

    I thought I would never live in such a place. With such a people. I just wanted to run away from there.

    My feelings were a mix of distrust, pity and guilt. Surely they blamed the whites for destroying their way of living, and surely they hated us just for the colour of our skin.

    (YT’s suggestion: I had mixed feelings — distrust, pity and guilt.)

    Thanks to the book, now I understand a little more ABOUT them and ABOUT the way they are living at present.

  3. I must admit that I HAD hardly thought of the American Indians BEFORE. Only as the characters of the Western movies, who were the bad people at the beginNing (I loved what they say in the book about John Wayne) and after the good ones, with pacifist cinema. This book made me think of them in a new and very different way.

  4. The book is easy to read and very interesting, so I recommend it to any readers. I am expecting to see the film soon, because I am in love with the characters, specially with Thomas.

  5. You cannot imagine how happy I am about your comments! When I suggested people learning English at EOI’s read (subjunctive!, it’s a present!) “Smoke Signals,” my intention was precisely to share with you the discovery of a completely different and unexpected POV on (arrow-in-the-heart, not dot-on-the-forehead) “Indians”, because our sources were so limited! AND biased! When I discovered this author, well, reading this screenplay and then various of his collections of short stories (which I love), all that helped me realize many things, about First Nations, about Ethnocentrism, about how destructive Cultural Genocide is and how hard it is to leave it behind, but also about the amazing capacity humans have to recover from extremely violent experiences, and it even made me think about my own society and cultural background.
    I love all of Sherman Alexie’s narrations, really. They include the blues and also really funny scenes and comments, and a whole unexplored world, that of Indians! A whole world with its daily things, which are completely unknown to us, and its particular approaches and cultural traits and individual personality traits, too, because we’re not only culture, we’re all human… Indians are not only what Reservation Indians became, or what alcohol (a “wino” is an alcoholic – it comes from “wine” and the “-o” suffix) and domestic violence made of them. I would even say, though I don’t know for sure, that Reservation Indians are not all winos or killers. (Actually, I don’t like the video on the Travel Blog because it seems it presents Indians are unavoidably connected to violence.)
    Well, I mean to say, there is more to this issue than what we think there is, and considering a different INSIGHT can be really interesting, and help us be less unjust when we think of Indians!
    So reading your posts has been great! 🙂
    I love Thomas too. Did you watch the YouTube scenes on my blog? There’s the one when Thomas barters a story for a ride to the “frontier”, hahahah… I love that story!!! And yes, I also love the idea around John Wayne’s teeth! hahahahah… John Wayne, the tough cookie par excellence (this is French!)!!!
    Oh please, post more on this, please, please! I’m really dying to watch the movie!

  6. I wrote a minisaga inspired by SS. A minisaga is a story told in exactly 50 words. Here it is:

    Smoke signals. Across the glacial distance, I made a smoky fire to tell you I can’t wait any longer. Spring is closer and I want to be somewhere else by then. I hope you find my message in the winter sky. It is full of caring sweetness for you.

  7. Wow! Don’t miss S.S videos, please!!! I loved them all especially, “How do we forgive our fathers”, the poem and music are really awesome. It is about the final scene of the book , where Sherman Alexie creates a very emotional atmosphere. I found this scene on the video a little bit less moving than that of the book, though. And the song is perfect! And in “Burning Scene”, where the car starts after some failed attempts just when the fire in Arnold’s trailer also starts is amazing! By the way, could anybody tell me what song is playing in the video, please? It’s fantastic!

    The S.S minisaga is wonderful! Congratulations!!

  8. I am really surprised how things change. I read the book last month but I remember fairly well the text. I coud n’t imagine that the voices of the actors would be so impresive, especialle when Thomas tells the story to the girls in the car. The music is wonderful, both the indian and the folk. The topic is interesting and makes me think of some other “indians”, as the aborigines from Australia, who are in some way isolated from the rest of the world. They also were uprooted, in a really violent process, children were taken away from their parents to be given to white people. Of course I’am not comparing situation, but while I was watching the film I remember aborigines in Alice Spring, just wandering around and drinking, doing nothing. They didn’t have anything to do actually. Well, I hope we can talk about it in class. Thank you for the opportunity you, Michelle, gave us to watch the film. It was worthwhile.

  9. Hi there, Pepi!
    I agree there is a connection with Australian aborigines. They are peoples (pueblos) subject to acculturization. When you are uprooted in this sense, you feel worthless… Actually, both peoples have had tons of problems with drinking (self-destruction). I wonder how come we Westerners do not think much about how powerful and dramatic the issue of acculturization is, when, for instance, when we travel we miss the food we eat in our country!

  10. Hello! Thanks, Pepi. I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
    One from Av2, Miriam, eli, Ana, Pepi, Uma… thanks for posting! It’s so interesting to read about your thoughts! I’m loving it! 😉 😛
    I’d like to mention here a question by Jonathan yesterday on the forum. He asked whether Indians could leave their reservations.
    To my knowledge, Indians do not have to live on Reservations — it’d be absolutely outrageous, for in the USA is a democracy — meaning, there is freedom of movement for all and nobody can be forced to live somewhere. But just twice about what I just said: think of where people live and why they live there in our society.
    First of all, not all Indians live on the rez. It seems to me that Indians who live in reservations are very poor Indians and that the reservation is a kind of ghetto, like when we find ghettoes for Latino people, or white workers, or gypsies… (the ghettoes for the rich are not called ghettoes! – I’m being silly, sorry!)
    In reservations it seems that there are not many jobs, or services which do not make you feel like you’re being considered a second- or third- class human being. There might be reservations where Indians are trying to recover from all they’ve been subject to. Does anybody know?
    The writers I read, lived on the rez but then left the rez and live “in the USA” now. [Remember when the two girls ask Victor and Thomas if they’re carrying their passports? Thomas, surprised, replies that it’s the USA. And the driver (incidentally, she’s Doctor Fleishman’s nurse in “Northern Exposure”, “Doctor en Alaska”) tells him: “That’s as foreign as it gets” (I don’t know if those are her exact words).]
    Dinner time!

  11. Oops! Sorry, it’s Michelle posting…

  12. I have enjoyed watching this film very much. Sherman Alexie has done a very beautiful and splendid work, not only on the topic but as well for the way that the story is narrated with both realism and lots of poetry.I loved the actor’s performance , it is great to see real indians.
    The topic is very interesting . I didn’t know very much about american indians and the way they live in the present.So I’m very glad for the opportunity to see this film made with authenticity. It has made me feel the rezs are very unfair because they are killing the freedom of the indian people.I would like to know more about these people.
    Thanks Michelle for this gift.

  13. Hi, Cristina! Thanks so much for your kind words. 🙂 I hope we can use this thread for all kinds of questions and comments, and then see if from all this we can put together something to publish on our adorable EOI Getafe website! 🙂 I’m trying not to write more about what I’ve been learning, till people post more, you see! 😀 Anyway, you all might be interested in this piece of news from Indian Country: on the money the Obama Administration is going to assign to reservations, so that living conditions there can be improved. (And you “must” check out Joy Harjo’s video to move beyond rezs).
    Appropriations committee directs $2.8 billion to tribal economic recovery. The committee’s stimulus plan for tribes would direct $545 million toward Indian health services; $530 million for housing; $486.8 million for roads and bridges; $459 million for water projects; $327 million for schools and education; and $325 million for public safety. Complete piece here. But still, the issue of reservations is extremely complex, and if you are interested we could talk about it. I wonder what a CIA ad trying to recruit spies is doing in Indian Country, by the way… (Did you see it? “National Clandestine Service Careers”) I thought it was a joke!

  14. Hi everybody!
    I wanted to read something else about indians so I’ve printed some information about Mary Brave Bird and Leonard Peltier, which I found on TP (That’s really a treasure, at least for me). I’m sure we are going to broaden our minds much more than we could imagine when we started this course. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate your work. And for sure I’ll buy some books about Indians.

  15. Dear Ana,
    In case it helps, you can find the movie soundtrack and listen to some samples of it at, just by typing in its Search engine “smoke signals soundtrack” or something like that. (I can’t paste the link here, you see.) It is about 18 dollars. I might get a copy myself!
    Pepi, don’t worry about it. I bet the teachers will fix it! 😉
    Back to the powwow! 😀


    The first time I learnt about “Smoke Signals” was in class. I hadn’t heard of this film before. My thought was: What’s this? It was not difficult to imagine a story based on Indian people. A screenplay……for making an action movie, a thriller, a western, a comedy…There were many possibilities. Then I started to wonder: Who was the novelist? Who was the director? Perhaps, it was one of my idiosynchrasies
    but just before getting to read the screenplay and watch the film I decided to gather information about these people . Soon after I found out the novelist (Sherman Alexie) grew up on a reservation in Spokane and the director (Chris Eyre) is a Cheyenne/Arapaho. Native Americans, it sounded interesting.

    The movie is set in Arizona. It tells the story of two Indian boys on a journey, Victor and Thomas. The two men embark on an adventure to Phoenix to collect the ashes of Victor’s father. Victor‘s and Thomas’s performance is amazing. Victor represents the perfect Indian stereotype — very handsome, confident and with an incredible strength. In contrast, Thomas is short, thin, a gregarious, goofy young man who is always wearing traditionally braided hair and thick glasses. At first sight, Victor is the main character but to be fair, Thomas has some specific weight in this film. He is always making every effort to connect with the people around him. Moreover, it is easily noticeable that Thomas is the man who best remembers Victor´s father, and who comes up with the most fitting way of laying his remains to rest. Victor and Thomas together, the perfect couple.

    The way that the director has organised the performance is excellent. There is no doubt that it´s necessary to have a special talent to create this captivating film. At first, when I read the screenplay I thought there were many flashbacks. Because of that, it was difficult to follow the plot. Nevertheless, when you watch the film you understand that all of them are completely necessary. It´s the only way to transmit the exploration of family and friendship. A majestic direction to show the Indian society, its culture and traditions, its way of living, its values and native roots. It’s not necessary to have a lot of money to live. There are other things which are more important, such as freedom and respect.

    There is a stunning moment in the film when Victor tells the police he doesn’t drink and he’s never drunk. It seems to be a straightforward declaration of a break with his father’s behaviour. Another thing I’ve noticed in the film is that some scenes in the screenplay don’t appear in the film and others don’t keep the screenplay order.

    I have to admit that my knowledge about the Indian society was rather deficient. There is misinformation about Native Americans, which has been accumulated over many generations. And now I´ve had the opportunity to learn a lot .In this film the director opens a door to the Indian culture.

    “Smoke Signals” is the clear example that a sum huge of money is not needed to make an excellent film. Simply wonderful, thought-provoking and unforgettable.

  17. Javier, I read the book last December and we are going to watch the film next week. I must say that I enjoyed the book a lot and had just the same feeling as you about Victor and Tomas and also about my poor knowledge about Indians. After reading your awesome review I’m more than eager to see the film!

  18. Great to hear more about this. You are all welcome to join the Av2 Tuesday Group next Tuesday.
    The Smoke Signals webpage with all of your contributions is underway. Please, get in touch with me if you published a comment here, or better still, send me the final version of this comment, so I can just paste it. Notice that all of the comments here have been checked by me (by using block letters or italics). Talk to me if you are doubtful about those corrections! Thanks for all your good work on this very neglected and very interesting issue. 🙂

  19. PS!!! (Surprise, surprise!) 😀

    Don’t forget to tell me which name or nickname I should use when publishing your comment on the EOI Getafe website, OK?

    See youp!

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