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“Thunderheart” by Michael Apted Essay


The film Thunderheart suggests that urban and rural environment can reflect various forms of inequality which may exist in modern societies. By examining the life of a Native-American reservation, the authors can give the viewers in-depth insights into the difficulties experienced by the residents of this town.

To a great extent, this movie confirms the idea of Sharon Zukin who argues that living spaces can indicate the so-called distinction between the majority and minority or “us” and “them” (Zukin, 1995, p. 42). This distinction is important for explaining the differences between various communities.

Although, this movie can be regarded as a western, it is closely related to such issues as urban planning, economic stagnation, dilapidation, and environmental problems that Native-Americans try to overcome in their daily lives. These are the major themes that can be identified.

The viewers can better understand these differences in living conditions by looking at various urban settings. For example, at the beginning of the movie, one can see the main character Levoi driving through the streets of Washington D.C. (Nozik, 1992). Such images indicate that a certain society or culture has achieved high levels or prosperity. This is one of the major impressions that this scene produces on a person.

However, later, the protagonist is placed in a dramatically different world which is not familiar to him. It does not resemble what he believes to be his home. In particular, when Levoi approaches the reservation, one can definitely see the signs of dilapidation. In this case, one can pay attention to such a detail as the crooked road sign (Nozik, 1992).

This road sign can be viewed as a post that marks the border between two different states that have nothing in common with one another. Additionally, the land through which Levoi travels bears practically no marks of civilization. This is one of the details that immediately attract attention of the viewers.

On the whole, this contrast is supposed to demonstrate that people of the United States can live in very different conditions; more importantly, this inequality can be closely related with the racial or ethnic origins of these individuals.

This discrepancy can be explained by a great number of factors such as lack of funding, the decreasing number of people living in the reservations, or the inaptitude of the local government (Sachs, 2011, p. 9). These are the main factors that should be considered because they lead to the stagnation of this town.

So, one can argue that Levoi is forced to look at the world to which he is not accustomed. Thus, this movie presents contrasting pictures of the United States, and this is one of the reasons why Thunderheart is worth watching.

Later, the viewers of this film can understand the reservation is definitely stagnant. An onlooker can notice a great number of stray animals as well as people who can hardly make both ends meet. These are the signs that this community is by no means problem-free (Nozik, 1992). More likely, these individuals see no way for improving their living conditions and one of their main intentions is to leave this place.

Furthermore, the shabby houses suggest that people living in these settlements of this movie are not prosperous. It is possible to find such towns in the developing world, but not in a country like the United States (Gugler, 1997). This is one of the ideas that the authors of this film wanted to express. To some degree, this town is a symbol of economic decline or at least stagnation.

Again, the images of this reservation can differ dramatically from the prosperous streets of Washington. This is one of the distinctions that viewers should be aware of. One can say that the comparison between the capital and the Native-American reservation is critical for understanding this movie, even though it is a mystery film, rather than social drama. This is one of the main points that should be made when discussing this movie.

It should also be noted that the residents of these reservation can face significant environmental risks. This land can be used for the construction of the uranium mines (Nozik, 1992). This initiative is opposed by many activists of this town. To a great extent, this part of the plot is based on real-life events because a great number of uranium mines that were operated in Native-American reservations (Rosier, 2003, p. 149).

Moreover, these industrial activities significantly impaired the health of many people who worked or lived near uranium mines (Rosier, 2003, p. 149). According to researchers, the residents of Native-American settlements are still more likely to develop various forms of cancer (Rosier, 2003, p. 149).

Again, this example indicates that urban or rural environment can largely reflect the cultural, ethnic, or social divisions existing within a country. So, this movie can throw light on some on the problem that are encountered by American society or at least by some groups living in this society.

More importantly, Levoi as an FBI agent wants to distance himself from this community, especially at the very beginning (Nozik, 1992). This question is of great importance to Levoi since he is also a Native-American. This is one of the main aspects that can be identified, and it should be considered by the viewers.

One should take into account that the protagonist rejects the idea of ethnic or racial distinctions. In particular, when Levoi is asked about his nationality, he immediately responds that he is from the United States (Nozik, 1992). In other words, he does not accept the notion that the country in which he lives can segregated. Furthermore, Levoi does not want to be associated with a particular tribe.

This is probably the main trait in his behavior. However, this character confronts the reality which tells him that the lives of people can differ dramatically in terms of many criteria. This is one of the main questions that Levoi struggles with in the course of this film. He attempts to reconcile the images of prosperity in Washington and the picture of stagnation.

On the whole, the movie Thunderheart shows that contemporary society is very heterogeneous. The members of this society can differ in terms of class, gender, race, culture, income level, and so forth.

Although, this film focuses on a detective story, it also raises a great number of questions about planning, environment, and economic development of various regions within a country. In particular, it illustrates the experiences of Native-Americans living in reservations. Furthermore, the authors of this film show that this population has to struggle with different forms of inequality.

Reference List

Gugler, J. (1997). Cities in the developing world: issues, theory, and policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Nozik, M. (Executive Producer). (1992). Thunderheart. New York: Tribeca Productions.

Rosier, P. (2003). Native American Issues. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Sachs, S. (2011). Re-creating the Circle: The Renewal of American Indian Self- Determination. Albuquerque: UNM Press.

Zukin, S. (1995). The cultures of Cities. New York: Wiley.

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