Movie Review: "Dances with Wolves"


Movie "Dances with Wolves"

The multiple Academy Awards was won by the movie "Dances with Wolves" (1990), directed by Kevin Costner who also played the leading role. It can truly be considered a masterpiece of American cinematography. Apart from its artistic value, the film is merited for the depiction of historical events and insights into the culture of Lakota Indians.

The movie deals with the period after the Civil War. A decorated lieutenant John Dunbar is voluntary assigned to Fort Sedgewick, situated at the Frontier. There he founds the abandoned place and while he is waiting for reinforcement, he gets acquainted with the local Indian tribe. Soon the Sioux perceive the officer as one of them, and allows him to marry a tribal American. When reinforcement comes and finds Dunbar, he is treated as a traitor. In a bloody fight the Indians release him, and the tribe moves from its site in order not to be persecuted by the US army.

The themes of the Civil War and the period of Frontier existence are interrelated. The argument over the Kansas frontier with regard to acquiring either the position of the land of slaves or that of free people was one of the reasons which triggered the conflict. Lieutenant Dunbar and the members of Sioux tribe are fictional personages (as well as the Fort is a made-up place), but they represent the generalized characters of an American Civil War officer and Frontier Indians. Being the advanced post of freedom at the land of the USA, the village of the Indians reflects the overall aspirations for liberty, existing in the American society at those times.

The movie presents two aspects relevant to the American history.

  • First of all, it tells about the soldiers of the army and reveals that among them there were many mean and coward officers as well as there were courageous heroes.
  • Second, the film shows everyday life, rites and mentality of the Indians.

The watcher has a chance to experience an encounter with the real Sioux from the way they cook food for their military preparations. "Dances with Wolves" manages to debunk some stereotypes which existed in the American society at the times of Frontier. The movie renders a message that before judging somebody one should at first try to understand the motives and the way of life of the other person.

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This revelation points to some unpleasant moments of the American history the film deals with: struggle for civilization and equal rights inevitably finds liberties of some people infringed. The Indians considered themselves to be the true owners of the picturesque land. There were wars with other tribes, but as the American personage of the film mentions, those conflicts were not caused by greed over the natural resources or other valuable notions. Massacres between the tribes were waged for practical and understandable reasons of securing the provisions and safety of people. The wishes of the newcomers of the country stretched far beyond that. Probably, one may assert that such differences in attitude towards expansion and military conquer stem from the mentality of nations. While the Indians deemed the food they obtain and the housing they manage to build to be the gifts of nature, the Americans were always inclined to take such benefits for granted and continued the search for more. This message of Costner, who tried to show the life of the Sioux from their perspective, seems to be clear in this aspect: innate differences between groups of people will always result in conflicts.


Being a screen adaptation of the book, "Dances with Wolves" also proves to be a result of comprehensive preliminary research. The fact that real Native Americans were featured in the film also contributes to cultural accuracy. Thus, historical accuracy and broad portrayals of lifestyle characteristic of the epoch became one of the determinants of the movie’s general success.

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