Film Analysis


Thefilm that is analyzed in this essay is Thunderheart.This is a 1992 film by Michael Apted. The focus of the paper will beto evaluate various issues raised in the movie such as how thesociety judges other cultures, politics and corruption, the NativeAmerican culture and people’s misconceptions, and culturalawareness and incorporation. The film’s plot departs from theprevious Native American movies as a more modern film that raisesvarious concerns that affect the current American society. The storyfollows FBI agent Ray Levoi whose ethnicity is mixed-blood. The agentgoes to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that is in South Dakota toinvestigate a murder (Bryant, 2015). The investigation makes Raydiscover his heritage after unearthing a governmental conspiracy.Even though the film is a work of fiction, the message that ispresented shows that such events could have actually happened. Thefollowing subheadings will describe the modern issues raised in thefilm and how they relate to the society.

Howthe society judges the Native American culture

TheAmerican community has always viewed the Native American’s cultureas strange. The concepts of the western culture on the Indian peoplehave always been that they were an entire different people. Whetherthese opinions saw their culture as noble or savage, the Westernmindset has never wavered (Bryant, 2015). Thunderheartdoes not deviate from the same ideas. From the very start, the exoticelements of the Native American culture are displayed. The filmbegins with clear sounds of howling while showing a remote SouthDakota landscape. The first characters that are shown consist of aseveral male Indians that are clad in buckskins and feathers. Theseindividuals are performing some weird ritual and as the eventsprogress, an unidentified person is shot down (Bryant, 2015). Thescene then shifts to a different world with dissimilar manner ofdressing and genre of music. This deviation at the start of the movieworks to show how the modern society is poles apart with the cultureof the Native American people. The misconception that many peoplehave for the Native community is that their way of life is primitiveand centered on ancient beliefs and practices (Bryant, 2015). Mostpeople cannot expect to see a Native American achieving immensesuccess in the modern world. This misconception is debunked when theviewers are introduced to Maggie Eagle Bear. The woman is a graduatefrom an Ivy League university (Bryant, 2015). However, she issocially conscience since she opted to go back and help her peoplerather than seek a life of fortune outside the reserve. Thus, aNative American woman is capable of attaining the highest level oflearning from a reputable institution. The FBI agent also has someNative American roots (Bryant, 2015). Thunderheart,therefore, tried to alter the stereotypical views that many peoplehave for Native Americans. Levoi and the audience are introduced toNative Americans as violent, dirty and poor. As the Senior Agentsays, “…the highest murder rate in the entire state of SouthDakota” (Bryant, 2015). The statement has an inner meaning thatstates that the high rates of violence are attributed to the Indians.This is another misconception that the outside world has on theculture of the people. They blame their actions on their ethnicityand not to unequal distribution of resources. When community is madeto struggle for its survival, its people can go to great lengths sothat they can provide for their families (Bryant, 2015).

Politicsand Political Corruption

Theinvestigation that Ray Levoi carries out ends up giving himinformation that the government has a role to play in the murdercase. Once the facts are analyzed, it becomes clear that the victimwas murdered since he was against the mining of uranium from thereservation (Bryant, 2015). Native American people are well known fortheir love of nature and how they always aim to preserve theenvironment. The politics of the state in the film is shown ascorrupt since all manner of intimidation is used to stop any personopposed to the mining project. The plight of the minority againstgovernment machinery is shown. Even though the community in thereserve is ethically correct to protect their land, their effortsseem futile as more people are violently killed. Greed seems to bethe main motivation of the administration. They infringe on therights of the community without any concern (Bryant, 2015).Thunderhearttries to tell a story of how a small community was able to go againstcorrupt politicians with unlimited resources and how the minorityeventually won (Bryant, 2015). From David Treuer’s article, Offthe Land: What subsistence really looks like, thereare several realizations that come to light concerning the lives ofthe Native Americans and how the Western influence affected their wayof life (Treuer, 2014). The Indians were people that lived off theland through hunting, agriculture, fishing and gathering. Theyachieved these practices without any adverse environmentalconsequences. The coming of the settlers led to depletion of animalslike the bison due to overhunting. The Western administration thenenforced laws to curb hunting and these laws affected the NativeAmericans as well. It is evident that every policy that is passedonly seeks to benefit the Western people and not the Natives (Treuer,2014).

Culturalawareness and assimilation

AgentRay Levoi knew that he was of mixed-blood, however he alwaysconsidered himself from a different culture than that of the NativeAmericans. His first visit to the reservation showed how differentlyhe saw himself. When he was asked about the name of his tribe, hesaid, “My tribe is the United States of America.” His statementshows how he denied his Indian heritage and did not want anyassociation with it. To add to his confusion, he was given anassignment where he was to go into the field as himself. As an agentof the FBI, Levoi was used to undercover operations (Bryant, 2015).After he was told that he was going as himself, he became confusedsince he had to accept a part of him that he had buried a long timeago. Eventually he resolves his inner conflict and accepts his Indianheritage. He goes further and wages war with the “white”community to fight for the rights of his people (Bryant, 2015). Theskills that Levoi was taught in the FBI community were combined withthe traditional skill to help him win the war.


Educationis another aspect that the film Thunderhearttackles. Ray Levoi is part Native American and was educated in theWestern system. He excelled and became an FBI agent. Eagle Bear is aNative woman that graduated from an Ivy League school (Bryant, 2015).The film tries to show that the Native American people are same aseveryone else and they too are intelligent and can excel academically(Bryant, 2015). There are, therefore no differences between othercommunities with the Native American community.


Bryant,T. (2015). The Vanishing Trace of Violence in Native AmericanLiterature and Film.&nbspViolencein American Popular Culture [2 volumes].

Treuer,David. (2014). “Off the Land: What subsistence really looks like.”Harper’sMagazine.