Updated: So I saw this film last Friday at Northwest Film Forum. It plays until March 6th, TOMORROW, for those of you who are reading this with no notice (all of you). If you have any interest or investment in how Indigenous Americans are portrayed in the media, and are in the greater Seattle area, I highly recommend you go watch this film.
While there are decent reviews on the internet about this film (Seattle Times) I find it interesting that the main character’s experiences, mired in alcoholism, impulsive choices, grief, and issues of isolation are only interpreted as products of those maladies by the articles I’ve read. The film has a surreal dream within a dream like quality to it. Perhaps because the main character, Virgil, is always waking up somewhere and he fades in and out of connection to other people and slips in and out of the present and memory. Now I admit, I haven’t read the classic novel by James Welch that this is based on, but it seemed pretty clear to me that this was a Vision Quest. Sure, he’s doing it all wrong. Apart from not eating, he’s done the opposite of preparing his body for the kind of crisis that occurs when we are broken and put back together by new perspective. But all the same, I wonder if this could be accepted. I wonder if the purpose of a Vision Quest is alive and well, though we may stumble upon other things to crack us open. I wonder if this could be a modern day translation of an old way of doing things and if the heart of those old ways can be seen in how these events unfold in the film.
Several days later this film is sticking with me. While it is gritty and hard to watch Virgil destroying himself, it also feels like watching a friend grieve, and choosing to hold a number of impulsive decisions he makes with some compassion. I can really appreciate his isolation and feeling out of place among his own people. I can identify with the despair and unworthiness. I can empathize with the state of mind where you are unable to predict what kind of person you will be from one moment to the next, and apathetically wonder where your limits went. I get the boredom. I am also glad that he makes a connection to himself in the end. I like to think that by the end he awakens to the recognition that he can never not belong. His dissatisfaction with his life is a shared experience. Most characters in the film have many of the same problems he does. In a twist of irony, his and their frustrations with life on the rez, including problems with each other, are some of what makes him belong there the most. In the end, doesn’t he symbolically visit the backbone of the world?
It would be interesting to hear the thoughts of the tribal members who were around me in the theater, especially with regards to his unconventional path to redemption.
Part of the mission of the production company Longhouse Media is to provide accurate portrayals of Indigenous Americans by Indigenous Americans. It was very well produced and if you have the chance to see it tomorrow or later, I recommend it.