Dances with Wolves (1990)

Writes With a Keyboard

It’s more than apparent that Kevin Costner has such love and reverence for the western, continuing the long tradition of epic Hollywood filmmaking with Dances with Wolves. In this revisionist western the Indians are the good guys and white men are the villains with Costner playing a character that likely would have been played by Gary Cooper 40 years earlier. The white man is shown killing mass amounts of Buffalo only for their horns, throwing their trash on the ground and polluting the water. The Native American mentality conflicts with the white man’s use of resources much like America’s carbon footprint today. I can’t say if Dances with Wolves is a movie intended to carry an environmental message but that is an impression I get from it. John Dunbar’s desire to see the western frontier before it disappears is comparable to the Arctic and Antarctica being the last great frontiers today which are apparently on the risk of eventually disappearing. John Dunbar doesn’t want to take advantage of the land but to admire and bask in it.

I find it refreshing to see westerns which include the Indian point of view. The insight in Dances with Wolves into the Sioux culture and lifestyle as well as hearing a not often heard language is fascinating. The Indians in Dances with Wolves are humanised with moments such as when Dunbar sees Kicking Bird having sex in the tipi, a relatable awkward moment or with the Indian children of the tribe having the desire to be grown up and act older than they are. The Indians, however, are not saintified ether; some members of the tribe are vicious killers and display prejudice against the white man. The movie presents both douches and more noble individuals on both sides. The passage of time in which Dunbar very slowly over the course of a four-hour movie becomes assimilated into this culture and learns the language represents an astounding piece of storytelling. Unfortunately, social justice warriors will look upon a movie like Dances with Wolves and decry it as offensive for its display of so-called “cultural appropriation” because apparently, the embracing of other cultures doesn’t represent unity between races but thievery of one culture’s ways by another.

Although not many people share the fondness I have for Kevin Costner dismissing him as a dull, monotone actor. I point to Dances with Wolves as a showcase that the man is a great screen presence; a four-hour long movie which he carries on his shoulders with no dialogue for long spaces of time while at other times he is exuberating his commanding narration voice. The scene in which Dunbar is being held by US soldiers as they assault him, denying him to return to his new found way of life as well as killing Two Socks and using his diary as toilet paper is so painful to watch. I’ve become so attached to the character at this point that I can’t bear to watch everything he has worked towards being destroyed.

Who needs CGI when there’s a world of scenic and natural beauty out there to capture on film? Simply look at the majestic landscapes of the badlands accompanied by John Barry’s score evokes a real sense of wonder. “Why go out to a location when you can just create it on a computer. Isn’t that so much easier?” Sigh. Likewise, the famous buffalo hunt scene is the real deal. How do you recreate a buffalo hunt? Why get huge herds of buffalo of course. Like the chariot race in Ben-Hur, history is brought back to life with buffalo as far as the eye can see with stuntmen on horseback right in the middle of it all; pulling off something as huge as this and retaining continuity is astounding.

Dances with Wolves doesn’t come off as cold, callous Oscar bait but sadly it is another movie in which its Best Picture win has hurt its reputation; “Dances with Wolves is just that movie which beat Goodfellas”.

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