(Read part one here)
Now that I have (Part 2):
Lt. Dunbar (Kevin Costner) misses his friends in the Sioux tribe so much he stops cleaning the fort. Or he’s gotten lazy. I ‘unno. Either way the place is a wreck. Out of mourning for his once clean fort he shaves off his awesome mustache. He decides his place sucks so he’d rather go back to living with his parents/his Sioux friends who give him free food and rent.
Two Socks follows him as he leaves for the tribe but Dunbar starts to flip out. I guess he was worried about the Sioux killing Two Socks on sight or maybe he just didn’t want his college friends to meet his high school friends. Anyway, he tries to chase Two Socks away but it turns into a game of tag between the two. Kicking Bird (Graham Greene), Stone Calf (Jimmy Herman), and Wind in His Hair (Rodney A. Grant) watch their game and decide it’s time to mention the movie title.
Lt. Dunbar, now given the Sioux name “Dances With Wolves”, is asked to watch over Kicking Bird’s family while he and the boys leave for a mens’ getaway. They’re going to fight some battles with the Pawnee, who the movie has already let us know are the Sith Lords of Native Americans.
So, now granted some privacy Dunbar With Wolves and Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell) start having unprotected sex knowing they can explain away any pregnancies as “prairie magic”.
Then some scouts return with the news that the Pawnee are going to try to attack the now under-protected Sioux tribe. Dunbar With Wolves puts his white-dude brain to work and comes up with the solution to this problem. Guns! He retrieves all his guns from his fort and the Sioux obliterate the ill-prepared Pawnee. Realizing this is the first time he has fought a battle for a good reason (Ignoring the war against slavery he just fought in, I guess.) Dunbar With Wolves decides to go all the way Sioux.
So he gets permission to marry Stands With A Fist and they have tons more sex. Later, he finally lets Kicking Bird know that tons of white dudes are on their way. The tribe decides it’s time to head to their winter camp.
Dunbar With Wolves makes a last minute trip back to his fort in hopes of removing any evidence which could lead the military to the Sioux only to find the military are already there! This is why you shouldn’t put things off, dude!
The army shoots Dunbar With Wolves’ beloved horse dead mistaking him for an Indian and then take him captive. Some military dudes are mean. Some military dudes are calm and merciful. Some military dudes are jerks who have stolen the journal which proves Dunbar With Wolves’ innocence even though they’re illiterate. All of them are killed when the Sioux help Dunbar With Wolves escape. You don’t feel very bad about their deaths though, since they just spent about 3 minutes shooting and eventually killing a terrified Two Socks.
The movie ends with Dunbar With Wolves realizing he’s only going to draw more military towards the tribe as they search for him. So he makes the decision to head back home in hope that he’ll be able to talk the white dudes into not killing any more Sioux. Then a bunch of text comes up on screen letting us know he was unsuccessful.
After the recent release of Avatar, there has been a lot of talk about the kind of movie Dances With Wolves embodies. The kind of movie where a white dude working as a military scout befriends the local natives, learns their ways, becomes the greatest warrior among them, then helps them repeal the very forces he was originally working for.
Though, I don’t think this kind of thinking about Dances With Wolves is fair. There are other examples of this phenomenon (The Last Samurai, Pocahontas, Ferngully) but this particular film doesn’t fit into their mold. Dunbar’s never much more than a dude hanging out on the frontier. He visits the Sioux because it’s something to do, not because he’s lost or trying to do recon. When he becomes a member of their tribe, he doesn’t become a great warrior among them. He’s just another member of the team. Also, there’s never a big battle against the military. The tribe just runs away and Dunbar makes a sacrifice by leaving in hopes of saving them all but probably just going to get himself executed.
The film also focuses on how awesome the Sioux are. It’s got a huge crush on them. It’s kind of adorable. The Pawnee are depicted and devilish. The Sioux are depicted as humble monks. They are more efficient than any military, have a good sense of humor, and cherish family. In contrast, every white guy we see besides Dunbar is dumb and foul.
Culture shock also plays a huge part of Dances With Wolves. Dunbar and the Sioux are constantly weirding each other out with their own natural habits. One instance is where Dunbar finds them celebrating the killing of some white dudes who were hunting buffalo for their hides. He thinks this is kind of unsettling since the hunters were just trying to make a buck. It’s the butting of heads between cultures and ideals which makes the story seem more realistic.
Kevin Costner does a great job as the role of Dunbar, a romantic who enjoys writing in his journal and being a bit of a klutz. Unfortunately, Kevin Coster as the role of the narrator falls a little flat. He reads it like a six grader reading a section of a book out loud for the class. Sans emotion.
All the characters in the Sioux tribe are instantly likable. Even the hot headed Wind In His Hair wins you over with his camaraderie and self awareness. And Graham Greene can tell a story with just a look, which he happens to do a lot in this film.
Costner, the director, clearly loves the prairie as much as the character he’s playing. Why make a close up when you can have a wide open shot? Why show a dude when you can show Two Socks and just narrate over that? It makes the film always enjoyable to look at and helps you understand where Dunbar’s affection for the place comes from.
Dang though, is this movie long. FOUR HOURS LONG! That’s twice the hours of normal films! This is definitely a full day movie, one you have to commit to. I can’t see myself being ready for that sort of venture again any time soon, but if you have never seen Dances With Wolves it’s worth watching. Strong characters. Slow moving but satisfying story. I give Dances With Wolves two out of Two Socks.