Dunbar and the Dancing Wolves of the Dakota Plains

As it corrects the excesses of the tales that came before it with touching displays of all parties engaged in the story, the film "Dancing with the Wolves" spins a beautiful tale on the traditional old American frontier story. In essence, from a man who attempts suicide on a journey to the isolated Dakota Plains to the "barbaric" Sioux Indians who drain Lt. Dunbar of his life.

The plot of the film centers on Lt. Dunbar after his unintentional heroic deed on a mission he had hoped would ultimately bring him to an end. To "see it before it's gone," he chooses to travel to the border. His mission leads to a solitary existence where he keeps to himself in a far-removed outpost, keeping stock of his daily activities in his journal. In this melancholy (that does not flow into loneliness) he meets a wolf he names Two Socks for the colour of his paws and later on, a Sioux Indian whom he scares off after he tries to steal his horse. However, he grows his relationship with the Indians, being exposed to their daily lives and existence.

The experiences expose lead him into making a realisation of their humanity, very much unlike the way they are depicted in tales told by others, leading to one of Kevin Costner’s most beautiful and most amazingly delivered heartfelt moments. The story then draws into his relationship with Stand with Her Fist, a white woman raised among the Indians and the slow romance that gives way into a love for Lt. Dunbar’s new family among the Sioux where he is given the name ‘Dances with Wolves’.

In the movie, Kevin Costner executes his directorial role with such a respect for the people and land that they exist in, drawing the audience to feel with him and see through his eyes. Wide, beautiful shots of the unnamed prairie (we guess the Dakota Plains), vast sunrise establishing shots, superb design work and amazing aesthetic themes makes this period piece a love letter to the old westerns, with the honest feeling of a more modern telling of a tale. In the movie, the white man is not painted as the saving moderniser nor are the Indians a backward people needing salvation. The female lead does not need saving, in fact, she is the catalyst through which the relationship between Dunbar and the Sioux grows as she interprets his words, allowing for more than just funny scenes where Dunbar struggles to pantomime buffalo.

The music does not rise to fill the mind but guides the audience to the feelings of the scenes. Glorious flowing scores assist the establishing shots, bleeding awe for the Old Frontier, but then change to the high-octane western classical themes for the action scenes. John Barry’s work establishes something beyond simple scores for dramatic effect in this film, instead serving a higher purpose and building the film through as much effort as the actors and the plot itself.

The film concerns itself with the injustice of Old America’s night imperialist conquest of the free Indian tribes. The tragedy of the violence of war and the telling of the tale of the other side, not depicting the Americans as glorious conquers and the Indians as savages, but a justification of the brutality of their fight for survival, and the humanity behind the other side. A tale explaining what it is to be conquered, told through the eyes of someone who believed in the right of might, but corrected, alongside us, to the tale of the humanity of all people.

Having won seven academy awards. Some of these awards include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound and Best Film Editing) the film does deserve them all. The uniqueness of the tale against the 90’s action packed movies, the detail of the sound and film editing process that is all in service of a well written and brilliantly executed story, a score that still pulls at the heartstrings with glorious crescendos and build up and cinematography that made the location as much a star as the actors in it.

The movie deserves a 4/5 rating for providing some of the best storytelling of the decade and perhaps, showing that even in our adversaries, there is a story to listen to and justifying our duty to tell it.

Work Cited

Dances with Wolves. Dir. Kevin Costner. Tig Productions. 1990.

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