But when they adapted their life to the horse, they became a great people. The Sioux see them playing. What depresses me about the movie is that I know the ending but the characters don't. The over-population of the modern civilization overruns their own land so they come to the land of the Sioux and destroy without asking. Best of all, it captures the hesitant emotions of the story, the sense of curiosity overcoming fear and becoming trust. Kicking-Bird on the other hand represented the soul of the Sioux People. The land and air and life merge in a poetic movement.
It was the main character and very much alive. It's a question of which directing job is better, not which director is better. There is the core of the problem. Kevin Costner is one of those directors who prefers the long format. I'm amazed at how smoothly the film segues from movement to movement -- action, alienation, suspense, social commentary, romance. In a John Ford movie, most Indians were the enemy. This is one movie that could only have been made in the post-Vietnam era, when Americans began to question the moral integrity of their country.
The three-hour theatrical version is still long, but it's difficult to say what should have been left out of it. I know that their natural way of life is coming to an end. To emphasize the loss and waste of the beautiful prairie life, near the end of the movie we see the soldiers shooting at the wolf for fun. The unrepentant villainy of Wes Studi's character, in particular, recalls the moral simplicity of countless earlier Westerns. The way Costner continued to get closer and closer to the Indians way masterfuly done. It always takes me back to an earlier time in my life no matter how many times I see it.
The story is, of course, fiction based on a novel by Michael Blake. Wes Studi can be very intense in his savagery, but in the eyes of the Pawnee, he was only protecting his tribal interests. We live in a strange world when Pulp Fiction ranks 18, and Dances with Wolves just misses the top 250. Their everyday routine of just living off the land is seen the same way as a buffalo eating the grass. The Dunbar character cleans out the watering hole at the fort because he refuses to lose his humanity like the men before him who abandoned the fort. The beauty is in the life. He's completely convincing every step of the way, if a bit too clumsy and self-effacing at times, hitting his head in the dark and fainting after a confrontation in a heavy-handed attempt to demystify the West.
Here is a movie that stands for something, means something, and deserves at least as much respect as some of the overrated dreck we've gotten saddled with lately. It is another technological step in the same magnitude as the horse. What I see when I watch the movie: I see ten thousand years of evolution and experience of a human tribe on the North American continent with the most recent characters at the leading edge of the current 1860 time. They take it home and hang it on the wall. You see the grass move in waves like the ocean does when the invisible winds touch the surfaces. What movie about Native Americans could be told without Wes Studi? He was patient and was the type of person you would want as a friend. It is too painful to contemplate.
Costner showed great sensitivity in not only capturing the personalities of all the major characters, but making the land itself in this case South Dakota one of the major players. Last week I watched the movie again with a new understanding. Maybe people thought the movie was too long. Rating: 10 Good job, everybody. The story is not entertainment. Even after fourteen years, the Dunbar character's arc, going from a suicidal soldier in the opening sequence to an adopted Sioux who in the final scenes puts the needs of his people ahead of his own, is still one of the most remarkable I've seen in any movie.
Finally, the movie is beautifully shot, has an unforgettable score, and is very well-written. To me, the movie is a story of the 4 billion, six hundred million years of natural evolution which is about to meet technology. The first disturbing scene is when the Pawnee attack the Sioux village and we see that to save themselves, the Sioux need the technology the rifles of the white soldier. The beauty is not in the trophy. His wife saw more than he did, especially the budding love between Lieutenant Dunbar and Stands-With-a-Fist, who was played by the heavy-duty stage actress Mary McDonnell.
Before Dunbar became Dances-With-Wolves, Wind-in-His-Hair would have been happy to kill him. This movie probably disappoints viewers who are looking for sheer entertainment. If I could rate the musical score for this movie by itself I'd give it a perfect 10, because it's one of the best I've ever heard, able to stand on its own but fitting the movie like a glove. So we see the Sioux and, to a lessor degree, the Pawnee in their soon-to-end natural states. The wolf is confused and doesn't understand that bullets are hitting near him.
Technology will be as devastating to this tribe and the land as if an asteroid had hit the earth. There are way too many Costner bashers on the internet. For me that was the most painful scene of all because I know that's what people do. This is a movie that looks into the very fabric of this country's past, and asks us to do the same. The cinematography was some of the best I've ever seen and in the tradition of the great movie director, John Ford. We've seen him play the part of a shaman in other movies. Few other three-hour epics Lawrence of Arabia and Braveheart come to mind have developed their protagonists as fully and dynamically as this movie develops Costner's Dunbar character.