Dances with Wolves
The film Dances with Wolves was a passion project of director and actor, Kevin Costner. I am inspired by prominent figures in Hollywood who go out of their way to embody important stories on the big screen, especially the stories of discriminated groups without a voice. Native American tribes were the original inhabitants of what is now the United States of America. Their sacred land was stolen and they were evicted from their homes and forced to the abyss in lethal conditions. So many times in civilization’s history, groups have been seen as nuisances in a more powerful group’s attempt at conquest. In lieu of America’s political climate today, we can learn from this classic piece of cinema. Dances with Wolves is an inspiring piece of art with a strong message that remains relevant to today’s American issues and should be admired as one of the staples of American cinematography.
Dances with Wolves is one of those movies that is legendary in pop culture yet I had never seen it before. I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that this film had won a few Academy Awards and is one of the few widely recognized media creations that used actual Native American actors. I was instantly shocked at the accurate portrayal of war. The gruesome reality is often glamorized for media. I put myself in Dunbar’s boots in that medical tent and believe I would have done the same thing. If he had allowed the surgeon to amputate his foot, the psychological scars of war would become physical and he would never be able to forget his past, that is if he survived the war (Costner). He felt like a pawn in someone else’s war. He looked over at the pile of fallen pawns before him, represented by fallen soldier’s boots. He identified with Cisco the horse immediately because Cisco had literally been branded a pawn of the military as well. When he rode into “No Man’s Land”, he was trying to die. When he survived, he chose to flee to the frontier. The Major aka “The King” was a manifestation of what become of most soldiers as a result of the trauma. Two Socks was the embodiment of Dunbar’s relationship with nature, he wants to get closer but he fears the unknown wild. For Dunbar, it was easier to stay at the fort and wait for reinforcements that would never come, than travel further west. All would change when he encountered the first Sioux (Costner).
The Sioux were very primal and instinctual, which may have been to their advantage. The first one Dunbar saw up close tried to steal Cisco, confirming his pre-conceived bias of Native Americans as savages and thieves. Still, Dunbar was intrigued by the mysterious people (Costner). If Stands with a Fist had been found injured by any other soldier, regardless of being white she would have been used to find the rest of the tribe and killed along with the rest. We know this because of how Dunbar was treated by the soldiers. As we know by Dunbar’s considerable choices, he was no ordinary man. He was willing to not only invite Kicking Bird and Wind in his Hair to his home, but shared his resources whilst sitting among them in equality. When he was finally trusted into the tribe, Dunbar found the sense of community he was lacking and an honest rebuttal to his own prejudice expectations.
I find the storyline of this film to be reminiscent of what is happening today. The white Americans believed in manifest destiny. It was their god given right to colonize the west, regardless of whom they had to fight for it. Hundreds of years later, the white supremacists of America seek to retake their land and power in society. They blame Mexicans for taking their land and jobs although they took Mexicans land-California and Texas- in a very similar way to the Native Americans. They see African Americans as savages and thieves because they do not understand them and fear their culture. The soldiers who found Dances with Wolves called him an “injun”, an outdated and offensive term for a Native American, because he had sympathized with them. He was a traitor in their eyes. It took patience and communication between John and the tribe to create understanding and even friendship, as displayed by Wind in his Hair’s progression from “I do not fear you” to “I am your friend”(Costner). We can learn from that relationship. They were able to teach each other. In addition to friendship, Dances with Wolves was able to learn his place among nature.
The contrast between the Sioux and the white men in attitude towards nature is evident in their actions. For example, early in the film we see Timmons, the oddball mule owner, toss a tin can over his shoulder into the open prairie. Dunbar is confused by the insensitive action, but Timmons seems to have no second thoughts. The white men also seek to claim as much of the land as they can, even referring to the Native Americans as “thieves” of their property (Costner). The Sioux in opposition treat the land as a provider of life, uprooting their whole home to pursue the buffalo. The white men killed the first herd for “tongues and hides”, leaving the rest of the carcass to rot in waste. A soldier shot Two Socks, seeing the wolf as prey rather than the friend that John had found in him. This film is a visually stimulating and raw representation of the American Frontier. The ending may have seen like a let down, but I would have expected nothing less that the true ending all Native American tribes faced. It is a reminder of America’s horrific past and a warning to prevent history from repeating once again.