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Rez Bomb (2008) and Unfinished Business

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Rez Bomb (2008) is a film made mostly on or around the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. On the surface, it is all about a rocky love affair between Scott (Trent Ford) and Harmony (Tamara Feldman). But directly underneath the surface, all kinds of issues bubble up. On the screen, a bogeyman-loan shark makes life impossible. Off-screen, if only by way of indirect implication, there are tensions that have not managed to resolve themselves for, practically speaking, the entire lifetime of the U.S. This is truly a You-People versus You-People dilemma.

For something like two years now, I have reviewed mostly old-time Westerns for the Examiner. To my mind, Rez Bomb is also a Western, not in the traditional sense, but in terms of today. It takes place in South Dakota. It was filmed on a western reservation. It borders the Badlands. The characters are from this part of the country. What you see is what there is to be seen. People may wear cowboy hats and boots, and during one sequence, Harmony puts on the ornamental dress of an Indian Princess. But otherwise, there is little to distinguish anyone in the movie from his or her eastern counterpart, and that is because it is what it is. People do not wear gun belts with tied-down holsters the way they once did, nor do they ride horses into town with spurs and long-barreled sidearms.

Viewers may not like Rez Bomb for this very reason: it is just too real. Since they would not want to drive into Pine Ridge and have a look at the stray dogs, junkers, mobile homes stuffed with poor residents, and the general assortment of eyesores that penury creates, they will also refrain from seeing this movie. Of course, there is so much product out there these days that it is impossible to determine what is a "must see" and what is not. But the poverty of this famous reservation is a factor that belongs as much to the factual as to the fictional. It really is that way. On Pine Ridge reside surviving descendants of likely the worst massacre in U.S. history. Look the other way, if you will. But the wanton slaughter of women, children, and old folk by the armed forces is as much a part of our historical tapestry as the crossing of the Delaware. Nevertheless, the Indian Wars of the 19th century are over. And this is a nation that prefers to look ahead.

The film does, however, move off the reservation from time to time. In one scene, it exhibits the well-manicured lawn and front garden of Scott's family's home. Inside, everything is clean and tidy, as well as more expensive. One might breathe a sigh of relief while, at the same time, abjure the prejudicial mindset that reigns supreme within. Scott's parents want to know what denomination Harmony belongs to as well as where she works. Of course, she does not have a job nor does she attend a church. This scene might seem quaint now, too typical, predictable and easily dismissed, but in the future, we might all look forward to the same inquisitorial treatment -- if the U.S. drifts, as seems apparent, toward, if not out-and-out fascism, then a systematic curtailment of freedoms, many now taken for granted.

The leveraged and preferential treatment that comes with property is also emphasized by the way in which Scott's father expresses his decision to withhold Scott's trust fund or equivalent if he continues to see a young, Native American woman. At the same time, Harmony is pregnant with their grandchild. But even this does not bring with it some kind of solace. In fact, the protection offered to her as a mother comes with the burden of having to embrace Jesus (according to the debatable, spiritual supervision of the charity involved) from sunup to sundown. Harmony has an abrupt answer to this unacceptable burden based on a historical perspective that may not actually take into account the better side of missionary work. Nonetheless, despite everything, this latter-day Romeo and Juliette is not hopeless. To be sure, Harmony and Scott are not role models. And the Lakotah, ancestral elders are probably looking down with disapproval, too. But there is some virtue is seeing this film as well as other more meaningful films like it, in addition to, or instead of, movie blockbusters and proven TV shows. In sum, Rez Bomb is recommended, though it is not the final word on lingering unfinished business.

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