Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Movie Moment: Hair and Ashes

I haven't written a "movie moment" in quite a while.
Here is the end of the movie Smoke Signals, screenplay by Sherman Alexei, as mentioned above.
[Spoiler alert, obviously, since it's the end.]
This is not only one of the funniest and smartest movies, it's got one of the most profound endings on a topic we don't hear much about--forgiving our fathers.

The young Coeur d'Alene Indian man Thomas recites this poem, "Forgiving Our Fathers," for his friend Victor, who is throwing his father's ashes in the river.
Victor's father left the family when Victor was young. When Victor drives from the Pacific northwest to Arizona to pick up his father's ashes, he finds in his father's wallet a photo of his father with him and his mom.
On the back, his father has written one word: Home.
Victor reads it and takes out his knife and cuts off his beautiful long hair.

His expression of multidimensional grief came to me the morning after my mother's suicide--father, mother, what's the difference?--and I knelt on the floor with the kitchen scissors and did the same. Later I put some locks of my hair on my mother's coffin, before it went into the cremation oven.

The poem "Forgiving Our Fathers" is by Dick Lourie.


4 comments:

bink said...

This clip brings such a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Forgiving fathers/mothers.. what a struggle...

fresca said...

Me too, I always tear up over this scene. I read that the actor's scream came out of his own personal sadness about his parents...
We are not alone.

evve said...

Oh dear, weeping, and I haven't even watched the clip. The cutting of hair is such a multi-layered symbolic act, and the idea of giving your hair to your mother... omg. I shaved my head (I have particularly long and luxurient hair which is often admired) at the trough of my breakdown. St Valentine's day 2003. It was something that needed to be done - I think it was to express how terrible I felt since, as we all know, mental illness is so invisible and lacks stricking visual signfiers. Sigh.

fresca said...

I really get shaving your hair off--hair is one of the few external but integral physical signs we can change radically and quickly.
(A friend burned her hair off, which is really scary.)
It's weird how invisible emotional pain is... It's handy in some ways, (we can still show up for work), but at some point people need to SEE.

I first noticed hair-change as a signifier in the movie "Taxi Driver". When Robert DeNiro's character shaves his hair into a Mohawk, you knew something was going down.