Film Review: Thunderheart

Thunderheart is an entertaining film based on events that took place in Oglala Sioux Reservation in the 1970’s. The movie is a spiritual thriller with some shooting scenes, which are intertwined with the plot dealing with American Indian beliefs and religious customs. The antagonist in the movie is Ray Levoi, an FBI operative of Sioux heritage, who is sent from Washington to investigate a crime in Oglala. Although he is partly Sioux, Levoi (Val Kilmer) is so culturally assimilated that he does not acknowledge his heritage. In fact, he resents being given the job, mainly due to his background; he even contemptuously refers to fellow American Indians as “Tonto” and “Geronimo.”  Thunderheart depicts how the lack of knowledge of Native American culture complicates the social interactions between these individuals and the government and results in the absence of the latter’s active presence in the Oglala Sioux Reservation region.
One of Thunderheart’s theme is of how people judge others. Importantly, the film shows that ignorance is the primary cause of biased opinions towards others. In particular, it shows that negative and unsubstantiated views can make people dislike others for no specific reason. To solve this problem, the film shows that social integration through partnerships in work and increased interactions can eliminate these prejudices. For example, Ray’s disdain for his tribal background is primarily because adoptive parents raised him, and he had little exposure to Native Americans. Consequently, his views about the latter were based on biased opinions that he had from others. However, his interactions with the Native Americans during his work reveals to him that these individuals are friendly and social individuals.
Majorly, the film shows the lack of understanding of the Native American cultures by most modernized individuals. In this case, the individuals are unaware of the beliefs, traditions, and social structure of these individuals. Besides being ignorant of the Naïve American’s cultures, the government appears to distance itself from this community. A government should encourage for social cohesion by allowing all its citizens to socialize and carry out their traditions freely (Pramaggiore and Wallis 81). Additionally, it should establish appropriate infrastructure and institution to enable it to administer all its jurisdictions. In Thunderheart, there is an apparent lack of government presence in the community. For example, the area is mired with criminal groupings such as a local militia, Guardians of the Oglala Nation, who are always fighting the Aboriginal Rights Movement (ARM). The presence of these groupings shows that the state government does not provide security effectively to the local community.
Besides the region being insecure due to the presence of militias, the state appears not to understand the social structure of the Native Americans. In particular, the government is unaware of the importance of religious beliefs and tribal leaders in this community. Consequently, it is unable to effectively exploit its network with the community’s spiritual and administrative leader to acquire information about the region’s insecurity. In Native American communities’, spiritual leaders are highly regarded and are always informed of various social events in an area, including the whereabouts of criminal gangs and their leaders. Further, they have a lot of influence in the way individuals interact with one another. As a result, they can be used in fostering peace in the community and influencing positive social changes.
The lack of understanding of the social structure of the Native American’s is also shown by the long and tedious process that Ray uses to investigate the homicide crime in the region. Ray is unable to quickly connect the relationship between politics and the murder case being investigated. The militia group in the Oglala Sioux Reservation, just like other organized criminals aimed at imposing specific ideologies in the community and providing state control. Therefore, the investigators would have realized that the murder was politically motivated with the aim of settling political scores. Obviously, the dominant militia group would have been able to impose itself as the administrators of the region. Due to the prejudice that most ordinary Americans have towards American Indians, there is a general opinion that the latter are hostile, ignorant, and vicious individuals. The movie does a good task of showing that such views result in inefficiencies and curtail social progress and development. In the case of Thunderheart, they complicate the criminal investigation process.
In conclusion, Thunderheart shows that the lack of cohesive integrations amongst communities can result in a lack of a proper understanding of the cultures, which can, in turn, lead to unfounded prejudices suspicion. In the film, the government is unaware of the social structure of Native American’s which makes it unable to investigate the homicide crime in the area properly. Further, this lack of knowledge makes the government unable to use the Sioux people social structures such as communities’ leaders to investigate the crime. Additionally, the administrative void caused by little active government presence in the region leads to the establishment of militia groupings in the region. Consequently, Thunderheart depicts how the lack of knowledge of Native American culture complicates the social interactions between these individuals and the government and results in the lack of the latter’s active presence in the Oglala Sioux Reservation region.
Works Cited
Apted, Michael, director. Thunderheart. Waterhorse Production, 1992.
Pramaggiore, Maria, and Tom Wallis. Film: A Critical Introduction. 3rd ed. Pearson, 2011.