Tuesday, February 22, 2011

1990: Dances with Wolves

During the Civil War, Lieutenant John Dunbar is sent to protect a small fort on the frontier from "hostile Indians".  When he arrives, he finds the fort deserted, but remains there on his own.  He eventually encounters a band of Sioux, and is surprised to discover that they are friendly, harmonious people.  Soon he befriends them and begins to learn their language.  The Sioux, though suspicious of him at first, grow to accept him, and refer to him as "Dances with Wolves" because of a loan wolf that follows him around.  But inevitably, more white people appear and start encroaching on the Sioux territory, and John Dances with Wolves Dunbar has to choose which path to take.

I had never seen this movie until today, and my first impression is that this is definitely one of the most moving and well-made Best Picture Winners.  Kevin Costner - who co-produced, directed, and starred in it - was clearly very invested in the story.  It's an extremely well-told and fascinating story, so much so that I found myself disappointed when it was over.  This is really saying something, as it's three hours long (and you know how I feel about excessively long movies).  Dances with Wolves doesn't feel too long because it's so engaging.  It has really good character development, as well as intense action scenes - including an epic buffalo hunt - adventure, and romance.  Really, what more could you want from a film?

A significant portion of the dialogue is in the Sioux language, which significantly aids the believability of the story.  So often in westerns that have American Indians, they all conveniently speak broken English, which contributes to the image that they are inferior, as they can't even speak properly.  In this film, the Indians are seen speaking in their own complex language, and the white man feels inferior because he doesn't know what they are saying.  Some of the Sioux characters learn a little English, but Dances with Wolves becomes almost fluent in their language, which is the way it should be; he is the stranger in their land, so he learns their customs, rather than forcing his on them.  Besides the obvious fact that the portion of history which this film depicts is sad, the movie is even more depressing because it stresses that if more white people had been open-minded like Lieutenant Dunbar, all the oppression and bloodshed need not have happened.  But not all of the film is depressing; the middle, when Dances with Wolves is becoming incorporated into the Sioux society, is actually very uplifting and happy.  So, yes, I guess you could argue that this is another long, depressing epic Best Picture, but it's better than most.  In my opinion it's right up there with Gone with the Wind as the best of the epics.

Following this: The Silence of the Lambs

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