October 18, 2001

Cornell Cinema: Doe Boy

Print More

In the film The Doe Boy, the main character, Hunter, is dealt blow after blow — nothing comes easy in his life, but he always keeps his chin up. Despite this, the film is anything but depressing; in fact, it’s almost uplifting in its bittersweet presentation of a boy’s coming of age and acceptance of his identity.

As a hemophiliac, Hunter is monitored by his mother who, as a nurse, is fortunately capable of caring for her ill son. It’s a burden for his family, and especially for his father, who resents the cost of Hunter’s medications and that Hunter can’t participate in most of the activities that young boys his age do — specifically, hunting. In Oklahoma in 1977, hunting is a pastime that is not only a sport, but a testament to one’s manhood. In trying to impress his always critical father, Hunter does go hunting, but shoots a doe instead of a buck, which is almost worse than having shot nothing at all.

The backbone of the film is the tradition of storytelling within the Cherokee tribe. Hunter is half Cherokee and half white, and his identity crisis only begins there. Hunter’s story is one of frustration with his father, whose own thwarted dreams are intended to warn and dismay Hunter. It’s a story of finding freedom in the simple liberation of driving, or of getting his own apartment, and a story of learning to come to terms with himself.

Hunter’s character is as complex as the Oklahoma sky is blue. While he is only 18, he already fears his imminent death. This may account for why he acts as if he doesn’t fully understand the consequences of his own actions. On the other hand, he seems all too aware of the risks of his life. When he finds out that the only other hemophiliac Native American in the state has died of AIDS from a blood transfusion, Hunter solemnly understands his fate without even finding out if he has the disease or not. At times, Hunter appears to be tortured by his world and by the rituals of his culture and at other moments he seems to rejoice in its simple wonders.

Randy Redroad’s interpretation of Hunter’s environment is clear. Redroad’s attention to nature pulls the viewer in, makes you feel like you’ve actually walked in the woods of Hunter’s environment and heard the leaves crackling underneath your feet. Location is a main character in the film, from the old television set where Hunter’s father watches war movies to the barren apartment where Hunter lives, his need to be free of his parents so strong that he breaks away from them even though it means living with little. The film also evokes the sense of a period piece: made just this past year, it captures the mid 1980s, from the fashion to the cars.

Many films which explore cultural identities can be heavy-handed, but unlike those, The Doe Boy looks at Native American culture without being overly explicit. Many of the themes in the film are presented without forcing the viewer to even analyze them. For example, one could see hunting as a part of a culture focused on blood, and blood is by birth Hunter’s affliction. Or one could see the irony in Hunter’s name. But the film’s main concern is simply telling a good story, and it certainly succeeds at that.

The screening on Friday at 7:15 in WSH will be presented by the filmmaker himself, Randy Redroad.

Archived article by Diana Lind