After an act of suicidal bravery, Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner), a Union solider fighting in the American Civil War, is given the chance to choose his next post. He wants to see the frontier and so is assigned to a fort built somewhere in the Midwest. When Dunbar arrives there, he finds the place deserted, but soon learns that a band of Sioux are encamped nearby. Having made contact with these people, he quickly becomes infatuated with their way of life and begins to adopt their culture. Analysis
I will freely admit that I am not a great admirer of Kevin Costner's work, either as a director or as an actor, and I did not expect much from his Dances with Wolves. In spite of this, I found the film to be sufficiently well made and intriguing for it to retain my interest throughout much of its duration. Towards its conclusion, the movie does become far too heavy-handed, but this weakness is not so severe as to spoil the whole of the work. The director's depiction of Dunbar's involvement with the band of Sioux is especially well handled. As the character is always self-reflective, his engagement with these people does not involve some false epiphany, as is commonly the case in movies in which a white man realizes the worth of other cultures. Nevertheless, Dunbar has not been made so aware of his own failings that he seems too much like a man from Costner's time to fit into the Nineteenth Century. Instead, he is shown to be, like many men of that time, fascinated by other cultures in a very romanticized and slightly condescending sort of way and desirous of seeing how other peoples live. The viewer is, thanks to such a presentation of the character, able to lose himself in that man's interactions with the Sioux. Fortunately, these people are also nicely portrayed. Although their culture is somewhat idealized, it retains enough vibrancy for it to fascinate the viewer. Over the course of his narrative, Costner gradually reveals the prejudices, concerns,...
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