Shifting Perceptions in Dances With Wolves
In Kevin Costner's motion picture Dances With Wolves, a white veteran of the Civil War, John Dunbar, ventures to the American frontier, where he encounters a tribe of Sioux Indians. At first, both parties are quite wary and almost hostile to each other, but after some time, Dunbar realizes that they have both grown to love and value each other as friends. As the movie critic Robert Ebert comments, "Dunbar possesses the one quality he needs to cut through the entrenched racism of his time: He is able to look another man in the eye, and see the man, rather than his attitudes about the man. As Dunbar discovers the culture of the Sioux, so do we. " As the viewpoint of the hero gradually shifts throughout the film, it is also paralleled by the similarly shifting perception of the audience- from one of initial, stereotypical fear to a much more positive one, of respect and sympathy. This overall effect on the viewer is accomplished through the skillful use of several techniques in the film, as well as through the use of some memorable scenes, as portrayed through Dunbar's eyes.
In the first several scenes of the movie, the audience is introduced to the hero, John Dunbar, and is instantly able to sympathize with him. Firstly, he is a war hero, and thus, brave and respected. Then, when he chooses to move to the frontier, he reveals his adventurous spirit, and when he toils tirelessly each day to build the post, he also shows his hardworking and disciplined personality. Furthermore, Dunbar is a well-educated man, for he eloquently records his experiences in his journal each day, and his thoughts and insights reveal a man of noble and upright character. Thus, these qualities constitute the...
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...rriding theme- that all humans possess common emotions, desires, and traits, and that these human elements alone are what should be the distinguishing factors in one's identity, rather than race, gender, or any other external sub-category. Overall, the film causes the audience to change a traditional, stereotypical view of the Sioux Indians, but on a broader scale, it also challenges the audience to view all people from a more humanistic point of view.
Costner, Kevin, dir. Dances with Wolves. Perf. Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, and Rodney A. Grant. 1990. Videocassette. Orion, 1991.
Ebert, Robert. "Dances With Wolves." Rev. of Dances With Wolves, dir. Kevin Costner. The Chicago Sun-Times 9 Nov. 1990.
Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Home Page. 31 Mar. 2000. Standing Rock Sioux Nation. 12 Oct. 2001. http://www.standingrock.org.