And yet, despite the placement of this story in a Native American environment, the characters stand alone as thorny individuals whose decisions remain mysterious until the very last scene. In that sense, “Wild Indian” owes more to a violent, anti-hero-driven film like “Affliction” or “Taxi Driver” or “Menace II Society,” as it does to a so-called “problem picture” that aims to raise awareness of a group human situation. Culture and history are important to the characters — just as Travis Bickle’s war experience, sexual hang-ups, and mental illness are important to understanding him — and they help in part explain why they made certain bad choices (and why certain traumas visited them. and their people without their own fault).
But a lot happens in this film in addition to explanations, perhaps too much for the sake of clarity. This is not a movie that wants to hold your hand and explain what it means. It seems very likely that the filmmaker could not explain what he means by any choice, because so many of them seem intuitive, from mounting silent images of young Makwa’s battered face at home regarding the future murder victim with his girlfriend, to the final shot of a man contemplating eternity. The performances also keep things close to the west. Greyeyes plays Michael as a tormented and confused man, but with an arrogant edge that seems to have been a product of emulation (he was not like that when he was younger), but the question of whether the character is “sympathetic” is not on the actor or filmmaker. Ditto Spencer’s performance as the adult Teddo, a decent soulful person who seems to have an instinctive relationship with his sister’s boy and bears a huge amount of guilt. They do not feed the viewer with spoons or try to micromanage our sympathy. They just play the roles.
The short playing time, combined with the economical acting and some elliptical writing and instruction, will leave viewers with many question marks. But these are all features of the project, not mistakes. It seems clear that Corbine wanted to make a personal film, not a history lesson or a moral game aimed at hypothetical white viewers, and it is impossible to look at the finished product without feeling that it succeeded. Regardless of its merits as an independent and stand-alone story, “Wild Indian” can one day be considered a great work, not only within the framework of its director’s career, but the cinema as a whole. It is not interested in conveying its characters, history or themes in favor of a culture that makes it almost impossible for films like this to be made and seen. It is a declaration of independence.
Now plays in selected theaters and is available on request.
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