In Smoke Signals, Thomas and Victor fulfill each part of the Hero’s Journey, from “The Ordinary World” to “Return with the Elixir”. For instance, Suzie Song acts as the maiden presenting the heroes with gifts as their reward at the end of their journey. Their first journey is to Phoenix to retrieve Arnold Joseph’s ashes, but it is both physical and spiritual discovery they seek. Their travel quickly becomes habitual to them, similar to how in “The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”, written by the same author, Sherman Alexie, Junior makes the routine journey to school each day, crossing the border between worlds to make his morning commute. Through Thomas and Victor’s shared experiences, their relationship of unrestrained admiration and subtle antagonism, respectively, evolves to become one of clear friendship and trust. They must experience conflict for their comradery to prevail, however. Consider on the drive back, when they have a heated argument in the car before their nearly fatal crash. Through this mutual traumatic experience, all hostility immediately ceases, resonant of Rowdy and Junior reconciling over a game of pickup basketball in “The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”. Not only are these scenes, from both “The Absolute True Diary” and “Smoke Signals”, critical to their corresponding plot and character development, but they exemplify a theme originating thousands of years earlier on the plains of Marathon, where the few triumphed against the many. After the crash, Victor, like Pheidippides, the runner of the marathon who relayed the news of victory to Athens, only stops when his body collapses, and Victor is fueled by the heroic morals that are prized so highly now and perhaps even more so in the Hellenic Age. This is a blunt allusion, with Thomas going as far to call him “the Marathon man”.
With epic, non-diegetic music playing in the background of the montage, the lighting of Victor’s run for help plays a vast role in providing meaning for the climactic scene. At nighttime, the argument in the car, the resulting crash, and the ensuing confrontation are the low points of the movie. They are shrouded in darkness and the veil does not lift until Victor goes on his run, the last of his journeys. Running overnight, by the time the sun rises, he has overcome all obstacles, both internal and external. At this point, when he sees his father in vivid memory for the last time, this is the high point of the film. Chris Eyre uses lighting to contrast sequential scenes and differentiate the low and high points in Victor’s journeys, the focuses of the movie. Even though he fails to reach the town, Victor’s heroic effort earns him respect from friends and deems him a hero. This is reminiscent of in “The Absolute True Diary”, where Junior’s journey upwards to block Rowdy’s dunk at the climax of the novel provides an interesting contrast to earlier in the book, when on the first play he is knocked out by Rowdy’s elbow to his head.
Victor’s run for help also alludes to “The Fast Runner”, a popular Native American myth and 2001 movie. Chris Eyre is paying homage to the idea found in the Fast Runner and in Pheidippides at Marathon, that redemption is found through a heroic act, in this case running for help. At the end of the story, there is still an additional trial to perform, like with Hercules and his 12 Labors. Victor must go into his father’s trailer, something he is loath to do, not because of the smell, but because of the truth he must confront within himself, that his father was right in his intentions yet responsible for some bad things, mainly being the deaths of Thomas’ parents. As said by American scholar Joseph Campbell, who was the first to detail the Hero’s Journey, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Here is Victor’s bildungsroman, confrontation with the manifestations of his fears and enemies, prompting character development through which he will emerge triumphant. This reconciliation at the end of a long journey of discovery is crucial to any hero’s story, like how Odysseus dealt with the suitors and reclaimed his faithful wife, Penelope, at the end of the “Odyssey”. At this moment, conflict and resolution are complete. Victor and Thomas have realized their dreams and the Hero’s Journey, and they return to the Ordinary World, but somehow changed from when they first left, only a few weeks before.