I thought it was too short if anything. In Dances With Wolves, the land of South Dakota might initially appear to be a bleak place, but as Lieutenant Dunbar Costner spends more time at his isolated fort, he somehow slowly merges his soul with the surrounding territory. Costner's movie takes great pains to allow us to know the Sioux characters. The story is about them as seen through the eyes of a perceptive white man, who had been given a new life by the gods when his attempt at suicide ended with his recognition as a war hero. For the record Costner is not that bad of an actor. There are way too many Costner bashers on the internet. The Sioux adapted to the land the way it was.
The story is not entertainment. Their everyday routine of just living off the land is seen the same way as a buffalo eating the grass. The Sioux and Dunbar mistrust each other initially but through curiosity learn how to communicate with each other, however painfully slow. The interaction between Dunbar and the Sioux is powerfully effective precisely because the Sioux remain true to themselves. I don't think of these people as actors, but as the characters they play.
But when they adapted their life to the horse, they became a great people. That's a compliment not just to the actors themselves, but their director. John Ford hired Navaho people to play the parts of Indians in his cavalry trilogy, Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande, which were filmed in Monument Valley on the Navaho Reservation. The over-population of the modern civilization overruns their own land so they come to the land of the Sioux and destroy without asking. For me that was the most painful scene of all because I know that's what people do. We have Rodney Grant playing the part of Wind-in-His-Hair, the warrior who was quick to anger but was smart enough to listen to his elders and not kill the white soldier. It always takes me back to an earlier time in my life no matter how many times I see it.
In this movie he plays the enemy Pawnee so convincingly that you really hate him. 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. I was only ten at the time, and this was the first movie I ever saw that was both an eye-filling and a mind-filling spectacle. We immediately feel at home with the Sioux. Unlike most epics, this movie ends exactly as it should. She is important to our story because we understand the Sioux from her translations. Technology will be as devastating to this tribe and the land as if an asteroid had hit the earth.
While this movie draws its inspiration from American epics as diverse as The Birth of a Nation 1915 and The Searchers 1956 , its originality lies not only in its respect for Native Americans but also in its intensely personal treatment of the main character. 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. The wolf is confused and doesn't understand that bullets are hitting near him. It was also one of only two theater-going experiences that I ever had with my late grandmother, and I always think of her when I watch this movie.
They are not cartoonishly hostile like the Indians depicted in old Westerns, but they are not soft or naive either. Without question my favorite movie. In the very first scene depicting Indians, in fact, a Pawnee brave shoots one of the white characters full of arrows and then scalps him. They are the ones that missed the point of the story. Finally, the wolf trusts Dunbar enough to play with him on the prairie. The same winds take the smoke from the lodges away from the village.
David Lean, Francis Coppola and Mel Gibson, to name a very few, also worked in that format, and produced lasting works of art that also packed theaters. The character's lives are so well presented that I sense the history of their past In other words, I understand why they do what they do. 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. We've seen him play the part of a shaman in other movies. Many of the published reviews seem to dislike the movie for various reasons.
Best of all, it captures the hesitant emotions of the story, the sense of curiosity overcoming fear and becoming trust. Before Dunbar became Dances-With-Wolves, Wind-in-His-Hair would have been happy to kill him. It is a hard movie for me to watch. Last week I watched the movie again with a new understanding. Heck, Spielberg could take a lesson or two from this movie.
I am disturbed for the future of the Earth. I just consider all the complaints about the politics of this movie as total hogwash. You hear the same winds. What the heck are people thinking! It's a quiet, thoughtful story, and although there is action in it the focus is on how the action transforms the characters particularly Dunbar rather than on the action itself. Kevin Costner is one of those directors who prefers the long format. The soul of that animal has been cast aside by a human, which has no soul. Kicking-Bird on the other hand represented the soul of the Sioux People.