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1 rating: 5.0
A movie directed by Chris Eyre

SKINS, based on the novel by Adrian C. Louis, is the impressive second feature of Native American director Chris Eyre (SMOKE SIGNALS). Filmed on location at the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota reservation in South Dakota, SKINS tells the story of Rudy (Eric … see full wiki

Cast: Lois Red Elk
Director: Chris Eyre
Release Date: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Skins

Skins - 2002

  • Jun 19, 2008
Pros: Graham Greene hands down

Cons: none

The Bottom Line: "Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and everything I would like to be?"
~ Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar

After viewing so many films about Native Americans I didn’t think I would find one that would make me feel so dirty and ashamed after viewing it. Soldier Blue was a pretty raw film about the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. After watching it I was so ticked off that I personally wanted to avenge the Cheyenne myself. Then I watched Geronimo and felt nothing but shame. Now I have Skins.

The prior movies were fictionalized accounts of actual events. I am sure, as is the way of film makers, they were tweaked and twinkled to draw the appropriate response from the viewing public. Still, the basic facts came from true events and they are disgusting. With Skins, it is an entirely different thing.

This is a small budget Independent film. It is extremely ugly and beautiful at the same time. It is full of raw emotion, pain, chaos, despair, and even some laughter. It appears, at times, almost like a documentary in its telling.

It is a story of the love between two brothers, with all its warts and glory. Rudy Yellow Lodge has tried to step outside the perceived idea of the typical Indian. He is a policeman on the reservation. While this brings him some respect, it also brings him sorrow. Some look at him like a traitor that has forgotten ‘the face of his father’* while some see him as one that is trying to bring a dignity to his people.

His brother, Mogie Yellow Lodge, is the complete opposite. Despite the fact that we herd these people up like animals, we also expect them to defend our nation from opposing forces. It is the ultimate Catch 22 for the American Indian as far as I am concerned. Irregardless, Mogie has served ‘his’ country in Vietnam and, like most veterans from that era, has returned home damaged.

Mogie is the ultimate stereotype of the American Indian. He is a lazy, unemployed, drunk. He is slovenly, outspoken, and has all but abandoned his wife and child. He spends every dime he has for boozing and laying around. He’s ugly and dirty and nasty. He publicly pees his pants and goes for days without touching water to any part of his body. Yet, beneath it, long buried, is the high school football star. The legend no one remembers.

He was wounded three times in Vietnam, receiving the Purple Heart, which he promptly sold for alcohol.

Rudy, through his daily work, sees all the despair and inhumanity of his legacy. Unemployment, violence, alcoholism, is part of the daily life on the reservation. His attempts to bring people to justice, to offer some form of dignity to others, meets so many brick walls that he, ultimately, loses his own humanity.

Some basic facts
Filming for this movie was done on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It is brutal and raw. There is nothing pretty about this life. Most of the people appearing in the film are Native Americans. Most of them have no acting background so what you see is what you get, as is intended. It is almost visceral in its complacency.

As may be expected, because of its rawness, it carries an R rating for language and violence. I was highly disappointed when the short 84 minute run time ended. I wanted more, yet the story had reached its conclusion. At least this chapter of it. The degradation continues, in real life, with no relief.

It was directed by Chris Eyre; writing credit goes to Jennifer D. Lyne for the Adrian C. Louis novel by the same name.

Eric Schweig played the part of Rudy Yellow Lodge. He was crisp and focused and often humble. The winner, by far, in the film was Graham Greene as Mogie. He is one of the purest actors I’ve ever seen. From the smallest role to the lead, he delivers with a style that imparts humility and competency. He is so highly accomplished he is often overlooked but never forgotten. He is proud of his heritage and imparts that pride in his work.

In one scene, although he never speaks, it is his posture and attitude that soars. He is resting on a porch railing, beer in hand, while before him stands the perky and manicured newswoman giving her broadcast about the oppression on the reservation and how much money is spent on alcohol. She is the perfectly coiffed, successful, Indian girl, totally unaware of her surroundings and the defeat in her own people. Greene’s face, in the background, tells the true story she never sees.

The music in this film was outstanding. So many diverse works, often sung in native language, added to the film. In addition, it brought forward a lot of native customs that gave a pure quality to the film.

You tell me, what is the problem? What right do these people have to complain? We herded them up like so much cattle, taking them away from their homes and the burial grounds of their elders. We stripped them of everything they owned, tried to change their religious beliefs, tried to change their heritage.

We broke countless promises and treaties with them. And when all else failed, we dumped them on scrabble ground in some of the most bereft areas of the United States. Then we walked away - see ya.

It seems to me, if I remember my history correctly [although it certainly wasn’t my best subject], we, the foreigners, came across the ocean to free ourselves of the ideals and religious beliefs that were being forced on us in our native lands. We came to a country that was already inhabited by others and turned around and did to them exactly what had been done to us. Then we wondered why they were opposed to it, why they fought to maintain their freedom.

But they were a simple people and we came with weapons. In the end the weapons always win. But why should they complain? Didn’t we give them a place to live? Oh … yeah … they already had a place to live, didn’t they?

On the other hand
Frankly, this does and doesn’t have anything to do with the film. Since I am talking about dignity, that does relate to the film, but I am directing this to everyone. I’m no dummy. Let’s face it, not everyone arrives on this Earth on a level playing field. There is oppression, there is poverty. It is hard to strive to better yourself when there is no end in sight.

Like the American Indians, I think a lot of us have just given up. We want a better life, we want better things. We want our children to succeed and excel, but how do we do it? Most of us are living paycheck to paycheck and, even then, those checks don’t reach as far as they should. Of course, we do overindulge ourselves as well, often over extending our limits that makes the cycle even worse.

But there are those that are born dirt, scrabble poor. It is difficult to reach down inside and find that dignity and pride. When you are living with rats and disease; no water; no plumbing - where exactly do you find that core that will pull you out and push you forward. Some have it buried so deep it will never surface. Then again, there is no reason on Earth you can’t walk outside and pick the damn trash up in your yard. Or clear the trash out of your home.

You don’t have to have a silver spoon to find grace. But you don’t have to immerse yourself in trash either. That effort, that is what and where dignity is and comes from. It is hard for people not to look down on you when you are looking down yourself. Well, I’ll just end that there.

Overall impression
This is a tightly woven, complex, dirty little look at the humanity we have bred. Like the tee-shirt Rudy bought for Mogie, I often think the four faces on Mt. Rushmore should be replaced with the true people that sacrificed their lives to maintain a freedom we denied: Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, and Chief Joseph.

This movie will either evoke anger or apathy, your choice.


* thanks to Stephen King, for the face of the father wording from his Gunslinger series


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