Dances with Wolves (1990) is a a love story, a western, a conflict between the Union army and the Indians and an adventure film. The film reaches the highest artistic levels in both acting, cinematography and direction, that it’s hard to believe that this is a directional debut by Mr. Costner himself.
In the opening ten minutes the audience comes to understand that Lt. Dunbar’s (Costner) foot will be amputated in a field hospital, in desperation he fits his boot back on and gets back to the line. He jumps on a U.S horse and rides gallantly and ferociously towards the confederate line in an an attempted suicide as he mumbles under his breath, “Lord, forgive me”. But luckily this wasn’t the end for the audience, he survives and pushes the Union line forward and drives back the confederate line instantly gaining a hero status. His reward, to choose his next post, he chooses a remote post out in the Dakota’s to which he helps build on his own.
One of the reasons this film is loved so dearly by audiences is due to Dunbar’s diary entries to which we gain such beautiful insights into the ongoings of his mind. This is where we bow our heads to the writers as the narration is so important to this character, without it, we could never understand his strive for answers.
After a comical first confrontation with an astray Indian who tries to steal his horse, they again return to steal his horses in a small gang. The next action is the most important to the stories movement forwards, as Dunbar shines his shoes and cleans his uniform and mounts his horse to ride towards the Indians, for what is likely to be his last choice.
During this ride in which he wields a U.S flag, he comes across ‘Stands with a Fist’ (McDonnell) who has seemly tried to take her own life. After their confrontation, he takes the unconscious woman to the Indian teepee’s in his arms. The Indians are afraid of the white man, and they ask him to leave.
Another appreciation for the writers is how the audience get’s to see both Dunbar’s point of view as well as the head Indians. Allowing us to truly understand both ideologies and ways of life. After much discussion, they decide to visit this white man. The communication between them is slow and at times comical, but both himself and ‘Kicking Bird’ gain an understanding, and eventually after many visits to and fro each others camps, they gain each others trust.
The scenes that follow are a vibrant display of culture and beauty as Lt. Dunbar hunts, fights and moves locations with his new Sioux friends. John Dunbar writes in his diary, “I had never really known who John Dunbar was. Perhaps because the name itself had no meaning. But as I heard my Sioux name being called over and over (Dances with Wolves), I knew for the first time who I really was.”
Dances with Wolves is one of the all time classic films, winning seven Oscar’s. This is a film that is on the same par as a John Ford Western. A true masterpiece of direction, writing….. heck, everything.