The Seventh Fire recounts the story of two indigenous North American Indians living in a small town in Minnesota. Neither the older Rob Brown or the younger Kevin are role models. Rob has spent his life in and out of prison. He’s a drug and alcohol addict. The film follows the days he spends before he’s about to start his fifth stint in prison, desperate to enjoy his last days of liberty. Kevin is younger. He’s 18. He has more hope. But he’s already dealing meth and getting addicted at the same time. He deals to the young white youths (who could probably step out of a Linklater movie). His girlfriend ditches him. His life is going to pieces and he ends up in a correctional facility. Rob’s last night of freedom descends into a bacchanal, which is filmed in the raw just as potently as Toro Negro, (Carlos Armella, Pedro González-Rubio), another film which depicts with a terrible candour the ongoing struggle of the native American indians to adapt, half a millennia later, to the imported culture which was imposed upon them.
This culture is artfully kept at the margins of the film. Kevin makes enquiries about an organisation called La Plazita Institute which incorporates Native American traditions into the rehabilitation of young offenders. It looks at one point as though this is going to turn into a life-affirming positive narrative and the film is all the stronger for not going down that route. Similarly, Rob is a wannabe poet, (one of his poems is featured in the film), who when he’s off the drugs in prison reconnects with his Ojibwe roots. But The Seventh Fire isn’t addressing the exceptional, upbeat stories. Both Rob and Kevin’s cases are all the more poignant because, in spite of the fact we like them, we want them to prevail, they don’t. Life for them is about hard times, bad choices and prison. Only in the very final sequence does the movie suggest, somewhat cryptically, the possibility of another outcome to Rob’s story.
The Seventh Fire is a film which is greater than the sum of its parts. Not a lot happens. There’s no great moment of catharsis or epiphany. This is about how people live day-to-day live within a society where their very presence is like a guilty secret that shouldn’t be told. This is the anti-Utopia, the stolen land, belonging to souls who live in internal exile.