Native American Film Series: “Tiger Eyes”

“Life is a good adventure…”  Mr. Ortiz

In an unspecified place and time a young woman frantically runs. Her internal monologue, the first line in the “Tiger Eyes” film of 2012 speaks out, “I wonder what it’s like to be dead…”

Cut to morning on the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Somewhere in town the young woman and her mother, donned in black, hurriedly finishing dressing. For the young woman, Davey Wexler (Willa Holland), this is the day of her father’s funeral as well as an uncertain new beginning.

Shortly after the funeral, Davey and her family relocate to Los Alamos, New Mexico to stay with her aunt and uncle. Despite the answers waiting for Davey in the mountain landscapes, the aunt and uncle challenge the loving freedom she knew when her father was alive. Still, they can’t stop a wounded heart in need of healing.

On a bike ride one afternoon, Davey wonders out to the edge of the wilderness. After a short fall down a rocky cliff face, in a mixture of physical and emotional pain, Davey desperately cries out for her father. A local climber, Martin “Wolf” Ortiz (Tatanka Means),wanders out of the wilderness to Davey’s aid.

Wolf and his father, the terminally ill Mr. Ortiz (Russell Means), are Native American descendants of the ancient cave dwellers that once flourished in the region. Until his illness, the father and son would climb the ancient cliff faces discovering their connection to the past, each other and the earth.

Book cover pub. at

Book cover pub. at

As Davey builds relationships with Mr. Ortiz and Wolf, she develops her own relationship and connection to all things. Through them, she begins to understand that time isn’t linear… that past, present and future all touch one another… and that Wolf appearing when she is missing her father the most is no coincidence. As the medicine man in this film expresses, no one person is alone. Although our lives on this earth are impermanent, we live on through our connection to the universe. Our ancestors make themselves known through other people and the world around us.

Perhaps the greatest strength in life comes not from the holding on, but the letting go. Despite the unstoppable force of loss in our lives, through our pain we desperately hold on to what we once knew. For Davey Wexler in the film adaptation of the 1981 novel “Tiger Eyes” by Judy Blume, learning to let go after loss is the greatest lesson – and we see through Davey, Wolf, and Mr. Ortiz that letting go doesn’t mean losing our connection to anyone.

*** Note to readers: I hope you enjoyed my series on films made by Native Americans about Native Americans and using Native actors. This is my last entry in the series. But, if there is another film you’d like me to write about, please post a comment to let me know.

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