Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Dances with Wolves" (1990)

I have always had a fickle relationship with “Dances with Wolves.” I liked a lot of Kostner’s early films, and Dances was no exception. However, in the intervening years I have adopted at times the dismissive opinions of it. “It is just a bleeding heart variety, environmental piece.” “It is a misguided, one-sided and naïve look at the Native American conflict.” And yet, I still manage to consistently place it amongst my favorite films. It is my favorite film of 1990, beating out such gems as “Edward Sissorhands” and “Miller’s Crossing” but it fails to break into the top 20 films of the decade.

Perhaps it has to do with my own personal interaction with the film, dictated by my age and its release. It came out near the end of my High School years, when one is more susceptible to and embracing of the kind of message it is trying to communicate. My class hosted a premier screening of the film in our town theater as a fund raising event. It was also around the time that I began to see films as more than mere entertainment.

And it is a work of art, really. It is one the one hand beautifully shot and masterfully assembled. On the other hand it is heavy handed and a bit of an ego piece. But more than just well-crafted and epic, it is a beautiful story.

The West of Dances is the West I love. It is before the real expansion was in full force, back when that part of America could not yet be called the frontier. It was a foreign world. It is before the world of cowboys and Indians, there is just the Indian, the explorer, and nature. That is what “Dances with Wolves” is really exploring, at least in the beginning. A world that no longer exists. It is not a study of civilization through the eyes of society on civilization’s edge; it is a study of an unknown world, an exploration into another world and a foreign culture. Before you get to the climactic conflict when “bad” white man’s civilization comes to mark and end of the wonder, it is simply a study, a picture of something we all long for at times: an adventure into the unknown.

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