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A Film Review On The Film Thunderheart

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1132 words Published: 18th Apr 2017

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In this film review I’m going to discuss how the Native Indians and white Americans are presented in the film Thunderheart and the stereotypes within the film and in which extent it meets the overall purpose. Thunderheart is about an quarter Native Indian FBI agent called Ray Levoi that won’t except his Native Indian background and considers himself to be a white American. However things changed when he was assigned to investigate murders that have taken place in the Badland South Dakota. Purely because of his background he was given this task, Ray wasn’t keen on doing the task, his body langue said it all four minutes into the film he was very stiff all the way through the interview, small pauses when I was asked questions as well as denying that he knew his biological father who was half Sioux saying he died when he was a baby. Beside how he felt, to please the white man he thanks him and got on with it. Already made his mind up that these murders were done by the Sioux Indians, he goes to reservation area and looking for the prime suspect Jimmy who he believes is responsible for the murders because Frank Coutelle also an FBI agent who he admires told him so. However series of events that take place Ray starts to doubt that Jimmy is responsible, but Frank sidetracks him and makes him believe that the Native Indian police planed the evidence. The change doesn’t come quickly 40 minutes into the movie Ray is still denying his heritage when he was asked by Maggie about his nationality he replied “The United States” this just shows the audience that he is willing to lie to everyone even to those that already know about it. But at some stage in the course of the story, Ray is freed from his stuck-up attitude to Indian culture with the help of spiritual journey that he experience, made to understand the many problems of the violence torn Indian community and forced to accept his own past (the film is set in the late 1970’s). Inspired by real events that have took place on several American Indian reservations during the early 1970s, particularly the Wounded Knee incident in South Dakota.

The aim of this film was to create a different version of the Wild West and not the Hollywood type where the American Indians are portrait to be savages, indigence and violent people that aren’t civilised. This film is trying to get away from that entirely and want to show what the American government has treated native Americans

The opening scene of the film shows the Native Indians doing a “Pow-wow” dance, in the early hours of the morning just as the sun is rising. It is a beautiful setting with a blue sky and a tinted shade of light orange at the bottom of the horizon by the waking sun. This portraits them to be spiritual people that are connected to their culture and that they live a very simple life compare to the way the “white Americans” live. Pow-wow dance is about renewing thoughts of the old ways and to preserve a rich heritage and also that the community bond stays tight because without that they won’t have much left. The Native Indians are shot in medium-close-up given them a sense of power and importance and not the outsider that isn’t not part of the American dream. As it gets lighter the camera moves away giving a long shot of the whole ceremony that is surrounded by mounts which shows that they coexist with nature and that over the years nothing has changed in terms of the landscape. However this also shows how isolated they really are from the outside world and from the number of people that come to the ceremony it indicates that there aren’t many Native Indians left because normally large number of people would attend it. As the sun light gets stronger the Native Indian fade way, this is symbolic because it shows that the invasion of the white people happened so fast that feels like the change occurred over night and that the Native American become invisible as if they weren’t there anymore, just part of the history now. The background music that is played in this scene which consists of Shamanic drums, traditional Native American flute and people singing, is very peaceful, relaxing, makes you feel closer to natural life and gives the audience a flavour of what the native culture is like. Two minutes into the film the Extreme Long Shot, gives the audience the perfect view of the Badland’s landscape, which shows that over the years there hasn’t been any dramatic change, which indicates that the Native Indians respect the natural habitat that they live in.

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In the next shot is depressing and mostly shocking to the audience because that last thing they expected. In this scene a Native Indian man is running from the distance, with windswept hair, clear sky, and the sun giving a warm feel and being in the middle of the screen enhances his beauty even more, giving the audience the impression that he is free as the wind, but the closer he gets you can hear that he is breathing heavily, tired and things aren’t what they seem. The audience were set to believe that everything was good like that American government tells them and all of sudden they witness someone being shot in cold blood. This just show that the white Americans are ruthless killers that have no remorse to what they are doing and are treating these people like animals, in which makes that white man the hunters and the Native Americans the prey. This shows that even the FBI agents that meant to restore order and peace are the same people that are committing these horrendous crimes. Even the people at the very top believe that the indigenous people don’t fit into their society therefore they need to help these “people that are caught in the illusion of the past to come to terms of the reality of the present”. This just shows that the white man are there to change the indigenous people way of life, culture because they are burdening the image they are trying to sell to the rest of world, which consists of being on the move consistently and that hard labour pays.


This sense of place helps the movie with its weakest story element, the supposition that because the Kilmer character is a quarter Indian, he will somehow summon up his roots to help him decide between good and evil. An FBI agent at the time this film was shot would probably have had little difficulty in choosing between his roots and the rule book, and the rules would have won. Still, this is a movie, after all, and at the end there is a sense of rightness in the way everything turns out. There is also the sense that we have seen superior acting, especially by Kilmer.


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