We often see portrayed the sad and lonely Indian, mistreated since Christopher Columbus first set foot onto American soil. In the new feature Windtalkers, however, we gain more complex image of the Native American.
Laying aside personal disdain for the U.S. government, a number of Native Americans enlisted in World War II to assist in the massive effort to assist the Allied powers. Using the Navajo language, the United States military devised a secret code that enemy intelligence ultimately failed to decipher. Windtalkers traces the difficulties in preventing the capture of these vital code talkers and the courage of the Marines involved.
The tale centers upon a platoon of Marines deployed to the center of Saipan, a Pacific island used as an offensive point in combating Japanese forces during the war. Nicholas Cage plays Joe Enders, a pensive, stoic Marine with a ruthless adherence to his military orders and a slight prejudice toward the poorly trained Navajo Marines. He is assigned to the code talker Ben Yahtzee (Adam Beach) and ordered to “protect the code at all costs.”
Shadowing Enders with a Navajo of his own to protect, Pete “Ox” Henderson (Christian Slater) adds a splash of humor and attempts to welcome the Navajos to the suspicious Caucasian Marine troops. Others bravely help Japanese children, risk their lives to drag their wounded to safety and follow the Marine code of “do or die.”
While many of the American Marines courageously risk and lose their lives at the hands of the Japanese troops, the real heroes of Windtalkers are the Navajo code talkers. Ben Yahtzee and Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie) portray Native American soldiers who devotedly serve a country that barely recognizes them as Americans.
The movie’s portrayal of the mistreatment of Native Americans reeks eerily of post- Sept. 11 prejudice and fear that surrounded Arab-Americans despite the unfaltering loyalty and patriotism of many.
The prejudice and unequal treatment of a culture within a culture is undoubtedly and painfully real. The incredible story of the Navajo Marines alone is fascinating, minus the endless, mind-numbing explosions and human casualties and Hollywood fabrications of liberal, philosophical realizations that humans are equal in spirit in the midst of brutally killing the Japanese.
While fierce explosions and limb-severing action abound, the entire production would be just another war movie without the enthralling tale of the “windtalkers.” As it is, the film stands strong, exploring the thoughtful issue of under the direst of circumstances, which will prevail, country or conscience?
Windtalkers is in theatres now.