No matter how you choose to categorize human beings, whether by race or religion, nationality or gender, the resultant categories will display at least one immutable constant. Each group, no matter how diverse their beliefs or how dissimilar their behaviors, will contain men of honest and peaceful natures as well as men of divisive and violent natures. In the film Dances With Wolves, we are exposed to two distinct categories of people inhabiting post civil war America, the white man and the Native American. We, most likely, begin the movie with defined ideas as to which group contains honest, peaceful men and which group contains violent and savage men. We are, however, exposed to behaviors which are in opposition to the accepted stereotypes associated with these groups. As we move through the film we are taken from the comfortable starting point of our existing stereotypes into new territory, both literally and philosophically. The film accomplishes this by allowing us to journey with John Dunbar, a man who is as open minded and free of preconceived notions as the originally empty journal on which his new ideas and understandings are written. Through his experiences we are exposed to the sharp contrast between the violent and crude, as well as the peaceful and thoughtful natures of men. With every exposure we are purposefully moved further and further away from what may have been our preconceived notions regarding these groups of people.
Through John's eyes we are first exposed to the world of the white man embroiled in the carnage and butchery of the Civil War. The gruesome hospital scene only emphasizes the fact that life in the "civilized" world can be anything but. A brief contrast is made when the...
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...bar, separate ourselves from them.
The film Dances with Wolves provides us with an opportunity to journey out of a comfortable world which may be founded on hastily established stereotypes, into a world of truth. It begs us to deal with people from a position of knowledge and understanding, rather than one of ignorance clothed in superiority. It shows us enough of our own shortcomings to make us see that we could also be the victims of generalizations made by others based on the behaviors of the few. It presents us with a poignant example of what can be lost when people become what they claim to be fighting. It is a message that is as applicable today as it was in the time of the American West.
Costner, Kevin, dir. Dances with Wolves. Perf. Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, and Rodney A. Grant. 1990. Videocassette. Orion, 1991.
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