Friday, March 16, 2012

Off The Rez: from story to film- a good choice or a bad one?

    Sherman Alexie, author of Off the Rez, writes a story about the journey of two friends, Victor and Thomas as they set off to fetch Victor's dad's ashes.  The film adaptation "Smoke Signals" follows a similar story line, with added exposition and more character development. Overall, however, I feel as though adapting this story into a film was not a good choice.

    Take a not very well written story, make it into a film, and you will inevitably find it nearly impossible for the movie to somehow be good.  I know I'm being a bit upfront about my opinion, but seriously: a story about two Indian used-to-be friends going on a "view changing" journey to fetch the ashes of Victor's shunned alcoholic father just fails to enlighten us and eradicate from within ourselves the stereotypes of what it means to be Indian.  One may bring up the counter-argument that this story tackles racial stereotypes by placing these two Indian boys into a situation that any American could possibly get themselves into / easily understand (having a love one whom you have not talked to in a very long time pass away.)  However, this argument fails because within the story these Indian stereotypes are clearly accentuated within the characters: odd, seemingly anti-social, not understanding, storytellers.

    The film version's story pushes the bad story elements up a notch (yeah, didn't think that could be possibly, now did ya?) For instance, we have this one scene where we see these two Indian girls who are crazily and cluelessly driving a car backwards.
1) This seems random.
2) This seems stupid- thus accentuating the stereotype of Indian's cluelessness of Western society.
3) Why?
Another instance is the scene where Victor converts odd Thomas into a "real" Indian.  What is that, you may be asking? Well, according to the movie, a "real" Indian is a stereotypical one.  Not only does this movie showcase stereotypes, but it applies it to the characters outlooks on themselves, thus creating a never ending cycle that results in the stereotypes becoming reality.

    On top of a badly written story, the film applies some poorly done cinematic forms of storytelling.  The film does a horrid job of trying to add more meaning in by using on the nose symbols.  First thing that pops into your head when I say: Indian? Did you think 'long hair'?  Well, I did.  And yes, so did this film. In the film we have Victor go through a mindset shift, causing him to cut off all of his hair (and in doing so, give himself a very.... stylish hair cut...)  This was just so obvious of a symbol that I couldn't help but face-palm upon the realization that this film actually contained such easy going material.  On a more technical note, the film uses lots of montage sequences, flashbacks, and cross dissolves.  I don't need to go into depth about any of this because it was just all done in such a manner that it seemed cheesy and unnatural.

    I feel kind of bad for giving such negative feedback about this film adaptation... so, let me provide you with something positive.  The film does a decent job at transitioning between Victor at a yonger age, to Victor at an older age.  In the film this is shown by having Victor walk through a door, switching from a shot of him now, to a shot of him as a young boy.  It was pretty well done.

    Not often do I flat out dislike a movie and/or story, but in this case I find it quite obvious that "Off the Rez" and "Smoke Signals" are just too over rated.  Watch it and you decide.


  1. I agree with most of your post, simply because I don't like the story or the film either. The points you made are really strong, especially accompanying with some great examples. The one about the driving car backwards is perfect. Indeed, the filmmakers did a fairly bad job inserting some interesting aspect of Indian culture in a meaningless way.
    Overall your post sounds very personal, which means the post very fun to read.

  2. I agree with most of you're points here. I didn't really think about the two Indian gils driving backwards, but now I can totally see how strange and out of place it was.
    You back up you're opinions with good examples for why it was a bad narrative choice, but I have to disagree with you on one point. I think that the story was actually pretty well written. It had a decent arc, gave some insights to life in general (politics and Indian relations beside.) I think that the text itself was actually pretty good, but it was ruined (At lease for me) after seeing the film.