Wednesday, April 28, 2010

HUM 221: Fathers and sons, parents, children, forgiveness in 'Smoke Signals'

For discussion in class Friday: How did Sherman Alexie first plan to end "Smoke Signals?" Why didn't that work out? How did he change the ending? What was your response to the ending as you watched it? As you read it in the screenplay? Do you think either version did a better job of communicating the theme of the movie? Which one? Why? (There's no "right" answer to the question. It's a matter of opinion.) Please post your answers as comments to this blog (after reading it first), and then we'll talk about it.

Several of you said in your comments Wednesday that you thought one of the themes in "Smoke Signals" is forgiveness. Communications professor and movie reviewer Gerald Peary, in a review in The Boston Phoenix, finds pretty much the theme ... actually a related cluster of themes.

"The movie climaxes," Peary said, "in a truly universal flood of anguish, pain, anger, forgiveness, release. I've seen Smoke Signals twice and, in its final moments, sobbed twice: big, gloppy, purgative tears."

(I managed to get through the movie without crying, and I didn't notice anybody crying in class, either. But Peary has been reviewing movies a long time. So his opinion is at least worth considering.)

Much of this emphasis on forgiveness comes out, I think, in the last scene ... where the character Thomas, off camera, reads a poem called "Forgiving Our Fathers" by Boston poet Dick Lourie while Victor scatters his father's ashes into the river at Spokane. (Thomas and Victor's dad had been there in an earlier scene, remember, in a flashback. It all fits together if you let it.) There's a deep issue here: How do we forgive our parents? How can Victor forgive his father? How can any of us forgive anyone? Peary says:
The road trip [in "Smoke Signals"] becomes, of course, a mythic pilgrimage, a psychic journey. Victor's poisonous anger toward his father, toward everyone, is tamed a bit by Thomas's unwavering kindness, openness, morality. Thomas's stories are actually holy ones, spinning through time. He's a magic Christian, a griot [a West African storyteller], a Solomon. And it's Thomas who, at the end, is charged with dropping Victor's father's ashes off a Spokane bridge.

That's where Smoke Signals soars to the universal, a wailing wall of sorrow, with a voiceover reading of Dick Lourie's mighty poem "Forgiving Our Fathers." The poem is, without naming names, about Telemachus and Odysseus [son and father in the Odyssey], Victor and his dad, your dad, my dad: "How do we forgive our fathers? Maybe in a dream."
Peary and Alexie talked about it during an interview in Boston, and Alexie told Peary:
"I've seen the film hundreds of times, and the ending still gets me, maybe because I didn't write that poem, when the film goes from a simple, tender domestic drama and becomes spiritual, universal, tragic. The movie is about these Indians, but it seems to affect everyone's life. It's been astonishing: I had no idea of the huge, aching, father wound, of all genders, colors, races.

"After one screening, a woman told me, 'I'm going to call my father. I haven't talked to him in 12 years.' I saw her in the lobby on the phone."
Here's a link to the original version of the poem. Thomas recites it in the movie like this:
How do we forgive our fathers?
Maybe in a dream?
Do we forgive our fathers
for leaving us too often or
forever when we were little, maybe
for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous because there seemed
never to be any rage there at all?

Do we forgive our fathers
for marrying or not marrying our mothers
for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers
and shall we forgive them for their excesses
of warmth or coldness? Shall we forgive them

for pushing or leaning for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?

Do we forgive our fathers
in our age, or in theirs, or in their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?
If we forgive our fathers what is left?

A link to Thomas' voiceover - "How Do We Forgive Our Fathers?"


Michael D. said...

He wanted to have all the Indians on the shore of the river and have a computer graphic image of a salmon leaping from the water. They didnt have the time or money so it didnt work out. He changed it so Victor tosses the ashes inot the river. I liked the ending i liked how they ended on a poem that summed up the movie. I think the movie did a better job because they picked a poem that summed up the emotional tension in the movie.

Pete said...

HINT: Did the original screenplay's ending involve:

A. A car chase

B. A shootout

C. A dance number

D. A salmon?

logan eader said...

sherman Alexie wanted the ending to have an image of a salmon because their tribe were fisherman. i think that the ending in the screenplay and the ending in the movie seemed very different. i didnt get the same point across to me.

dave maziarz said...

d. A salmon. they couldnt afford the graphics for the movie to do the salmon thing though. i like the way the movie ended with victor throwing the ashes into the river though.

Cait131 said...

-There were a few different things that didn't happen in the movie but did happen in the screenplay. The movie ended with the ashes of Victor's dad getting thrown out into the river instead of the salmon jumping from the river, partly due to the budget that they had for making the movie. I really enjoyed the ending in the movie, which is weird considering I usually like book endings more, but I did enjoy the movie ending more this time. I think that it made the ending better, especially with the poem.

Cait131 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tara Proctor said...

D. Salmon

The part about the disk jockey right after Victor pulls away in his truck, in the screen play, actually took place at the beginning of the movie. The movie ends with the boys talking and Victor going away and the screen play has two women talking and drinking in a car and they notice that the two boys have made it back home.

Catey Rutschke said...

d. Salmon
Alexie wanted to use the salmon jumping from the river to end the movie but they didn't want to waste all of the time and money for the right shot to end the movie. I still like the end of the movie when Victor was just standing on the bride with all the water rushing beneath him.

Roman said...

The movie ended with Victor throwing his father's ashes into the river. The original ending was supposed to have salmon jumping in the river which I am not really sure what that would mean, but I like the movie ending better.

Jessica said...

He wanted it to end with a salmon jumping out of the river, but he couldnt afford to do that. I think the ending of the movie with the ashes being thrown into the water was a lot more meaningful than the original idea.

Chris Day said...

Alexie wanted a salmon to leap out out of the water, but they did not have the funds for the graphics of the salmon. I like the way the movie ended the way it did with Victor throwing the ashes into the water. It was a very deep moment in the movie.

mikefleshman said...

Sherman Alexie wanted to have an image of a salmon because their tribe were fishermen. They did not have the money to do this though. The endings of the movie and screenplay were different to me. They did not get across the same idea to me.

TMAC said...

I think the two endings were very different and didnt bring across the same points. And it involved a salmon becuase of thier tribe.

Jake Hill said...

He wanted to end it showing the symbol of his tribe. I would perfer the ending in the script because the ending would of showed his traits of his tribe and ancestry.

Anonymous said...