Per IMDb: “Lt. John Dunbar, exiled to a remote western Civil War outpost, befriends wolves and Indians, making him an intolerable aberration in the military.”
First Lieutenant John J. Dunbar (Costner) is wounded in the Civil War. Knowing that they’re going to attempt to amputate his leg, he chooses to take his chance against the Confederacy and rides Cisco, an army horse, in a suicide ride through the enemy. Just like in shows like The A-Team and other shoot ’em programs, the Confederates fail to shoot him, and whilst they are distracted by his lunacy, the Union army successfully attack the line.
Dunbar receives a citation for his bravery and they mend him. After he recovers, part of his “reward” is Cisco and his choice of posting. Wanting to get to the western frontier before America just takes it over, he requests something in that direction. At Fort Hays, a large fort presided over by an almost comically mentally ill and suicidal major named Fambrough, the major agrees to post him to the western most outpost they have, Fort Sedgewick. He then pees himself and claims no one can do anything about it. He sends him to Fort Sedgewick with Timmons, a “peasant” (as the major calls him). When Dunbar is on the wagon the major then kills himself. They arrive at Fort Sedgewick only to find the fort deserted and in very poor condition. Dunbar decides to stay anyway, forcing Timmons to unload his provisions. Then Dunbar sends Timmons on his way.
Timmons is killed by Pawnee Indians and since Major Fambough killed himself before documenting where he sent Dunbar, no one knows he’s there and there’s no reinforcements coming to help with Fort Sedgewick. There is a wolf that hangs around the fort that Dunbar calls “Two Socks” because it looks like he’s wearing them. Two Socks warns him when anything isn’t right. After a couple of Sioux attempts to steal Cisco, he decides to, instead, approach the Indians himself to try to establish a dialogue. In doing so, he comes across Stands with a Fist (McDonnell) who is the adopted white girl of the tribe’s medicine man, Kicking Bird (her white family had been killed in a Pawnee raid). She’s attempting suicide with a knife. She passes out and Dunbar carries her to the tribe. They don’t want him there and he leaves, but the tribe elders understand that they should talk to him to see why he is there. Communication is rough but he continues, introducing them to a coffee grinder and sugar. Kicking Bird asks Stands with a Fist to interpret and she refuses thinking that he’d tell people that she was there and they’d take her away. Plus, she says she can’t remember the language. Eventually, she caves and they gain a mutual respect; becoming somewhat friends, even. This is especially true after he finds buffalo.
The Sioux all get on the trail for the buffalo only to find a former herd of buffalo slaughtered by white hunters for their tusks and hides. They do, however, find a much larger herd. Dunbar helps the hunting team kill a few. One buffalo almost kills one of the junior tribe hunters and Dunbar saves him. He has to tell the story to the tribe, over and over. The tribe observes Dunbar and Two Socks chasing each other and names him “Dances with Wolves.” Dunbar gets really close to Stands with a Fist and they have a secret relationship while the Sioux are out hunting for the winter stores. Dunbar is left to protect the tribe from a Pawnee raid. He helps fend them off with rifles.
With the imminent white man migration and the continued threat of the Pawnee, was time to move the camp to its winter location and Kicking Bird gives Stands with a Fist permission to be with Dances with Wolves; they are married. He decides to move with the tribe to the new location. Before they can leave, however, he wants to retrieve his diary from Fort Sedgewick because he’s afraid it will give away the location of the Sioux. What happens when he returns to Fort Sedgewick? Indeed, you’ll have to watch the film to find out.
This is one of the 23 films that was on the 1997 version of AFI‘s Top 100 Movies of All Time (#75) that didn’t make the 2007 list. It is, also on the 400 nominees list for the latter list. I have recently just finished the original 1997 list. Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 82% Fresh and an Audience Score of 87%. IMDb has it at 8 stars out of 10. The film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning seven of them, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Cinematography.
I don’t really know what to say about this picture without giving anything away. It was a fantastic film, lush with visuals and a deep story. The criticism has been that the Sioux are represented as a peaceful tribe and allegedly they were one of the most blood-thirsty and ruthless tribes in the western frontier. I really haven’t done much research into that matter enough to know the truth. However, I don’t think that the fact that a portion of the population may have been as such, that doesn’t make the entire population of that people the same way. Perhaps, the same could be said about the prejudices against Muslims in this country today? Extremists (of any kind) is one thing; bad, truly. But the rest are human and, to me, I believe them to be innately peaceful and good people. I think that can be said for all cultures, creeds and religions.Okay, soapbox back in the broom closet.
The three hours it ran went by fast, but for interruptions along the way. Whilst I was dreading it (and put it off for a very long time), I do recommend this film as it is a really good piece of historical fiction. It is only available on Netflix via their DVD.com service (DVD only). I own the DVD and watched it from my own stash. I rate it 4 stars out of 5. Have you seen it? What did you think? I’d love to hear.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“My name is Dances with Wolves. I have nothing to say to you. You are not worth talking to.” Lt. John Dunbar, aka Dances with Wolves