Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale
The 1994 Disney movie Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale, starring native actors Adam Beach and Eric Schweig, tells the 17th Century story of a high-born Indian warrior from a tribe on the Atlantic coast of North America, who has been taken to England against his will. He finally gets back; only to find his people decimated by a plague and English people living in what was once his home. He’s faced with the choice of joining another tribe in their attack on the Pilgrims or trying to make peace between the two sides.
In this film, Eric Schweig plays the secondary role of Epenow, the unfortunate companion of Squanto. If the main character played by Adam Beach is a likeable young man, impulsive and naive, Schweig’s Epenow is more mature and cunning; he carefully observes his enemy and constantly thinking of ways to take revenge on them.
Epenow appears after the first fifteen minutes of the film, when he finds himself tied up with Squanto to the bottom of a ship’s hold of the English, who kidnapped them from their villages. If the first words exchanged between the two protagonists suggest they are from rival tribes, they rapidly became accomplices against their captors.
Arrived in Plymouth in England, the two prisoners find suddenly themselves in a theatre. Squanto is thrown into the arena with a bear to entertain the crowd, but he managed to make a diversion and escapes with Epenow. In the wild ride that follows through the streets of Plymouth, Epenow injured his leg and ordered Squanto to flee without him.
After this separation, the experiences of the two protagonists with the English prove diametrically opposed. Squanto was rescued, cared for, housed and integrated into a community of peaceful monks, while Epenow is again captured by the English soldiers, who treat him like a zoo animal. Epenow does not yet let down. He watches and listens and he finally learns the language of his jailers. Seeing how they are greedy, treacherous and contemptuous, he tells them that there’s gold – lots of gold – in his village in America. This is obviously a lie, but Epenow thus succeeded in convincing them to take him home.
Learning the departure of a boat to New England, the monks develop a plan to enable Squanto to stow away and thus regain his native village. Epenow and Squanto then find themselves on the same ship that brings them back to North America, but Squanto has changed: he learned to forgive from the monks, while Epenow is still burning to avenge the evil that the English have done to his people.
The boat finally arrives on the shores of America, near the village of Epenow. During the celebration that follows the reunion of the warrior with his village, the tension is high and one feels that something is up. During the night, Squanto wakes with a start: he discovers that the tribe of Epenow set fire to the boat while the English crew was asleep inside. Disgusted by this horrible revenge, Squanto confronts Epenow. Unabated, the latter invited him to go to his own village to see what the English have done. So Squanto hand for his village. Upon arrival, he discovers a scene of desolation: everything is destroyed, there is no one left. Epenow was right and Squanto, now frantic with grief, decides to turn for revenge.
It will be the nearby colony, being built by new English settlers that will untie the story. Lurking in the woods, Squanto discovers Epenow and his warriors hiding in front of the colony. The attack is imminent, but Squanto takes a new decision. He gets up and walks disarmed between the settlers and Epenow’s warriors, pleading for peace once and for all. Unfortunately, the young son of Epenow charge anyway, and a colon fires on him. It is now the doctor of the colony who walks disarmed between the settlers and the warriors, to offer assistance and treat the wounded. Epenow, consumed by anger and fear of losing his son, launches this threat to the doctor: if his son dies, all the settlers would be killed.
Fortunately, thanks to the good care of the doctor, the good care of the medicine-man of the tribe, the prayers of the colonists and the songs of Epenow’s people, the young man healed, and peace between the English and the Indians is finally concluded.
If the story is improbable, costumes and native music are just as unlikely. What are these costumes?? What are these songs??? To play his character, Eric Schweig is often decked with feathers and flashy trinkets that seem to make him really uncomfortable. Moreover, in this Manichean opposition of good and evil / forgiveness and revenge, the secondary characters around Squanto and Epenow are so pushed to caricature that they become ludicrous at times.
Eric Schweig’s good interpretation of his character is all in the suppressed anger, from the beginning to the end, except for a rare and touching moment of tenderness when Epenow finds that his injured son is finally out of danger and he kisses him on the forehead. But every time I see the movie, I cannot conclude with certainty whether Eric-Epenow’s rage is for his enemies the English, or for his strange feather ornaments😉
Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale in Black and White
Director: Xavier Koller
Writer: Darlene Craviotto
Stars: Adam Beach, Eric Schweig, Mandy Patinkin, Michael Gambon, Nathaniel Parker.