The Dunbar character cleans out the watering hole at the fort because he refuses to lose his humanity like the men before him who abandoned the fort. The main difference between this movie and a John Ford movie was the way Costner humanized the Sioux characters. Therefore I am just as disturbed for the Sioux as I am about the wolf. The final images, such as the journal floating down the river, the white man and the Native American speaking English to each other, and the brave shouting his farewell from the top of a cliff, are so beautiful and dreamlike that they manage to be both joyful and sad. What movie about Native Americans could be told without Wes Studi? He had earned a new name: Dances-With-Wolves.
And, yes, Costner is terrific as John Dunbar. He's able to blend intimate drama with big, sprawling action that covers a huge canvas. You won't see any computer-generated comic-book characters in this movie, but you will see real people having real conversations, and you'll see Costner and costar Mary McDonnell engaging in such intimate and convincing love scenes that you'll forget they're acting! Some people still resent the fact that Costner won the Best Director Oscar over Scorcese's Goodfellas. In this movie he plays the enemy Pawnee so convincingly that you really hate him. Not only is he the enemy to the white man but the Sioux also. Even the most sympathetic Indian character in the movie, Kicking Bird, is not kind to Dunbar merely to be friendly but because he believes he can get useful information out of the white soldier about the other whites who are encroaching on Sioux territory. Costner's movie takes great pains to allow us to know the Sioux characters.
The land was not just a backdrop or playing field. I don't think of these people as actors, but as the characters they play. 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 Sioux adapted to the land the way it was. 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. I extend the message of this movie to today and see population running amuck, stripping the land of resources and changing the atmosphere. The soul of that animal has been cast aside by a human, which has no soul.
To me, the movie is a story of the 4 billion, six hundred million years of natural evolution which is about to meet technology. Fortunately, Michael Blake also wrote the screenplay for the movie insuring fidelity with his vision. The story is not entertainment. So we see the Sioux and, to a lessor degree, the Pawnee in their soon-to-end natural states. Without question my favorite movie. As an actress, she was so convincing in her struggle to remember long forgotten English words from her childhood, from the time before she came to live with the Sioux. Finally, the movie is beautifully shot, has an unforgettable score, and is very well-written.
He requests a position on the western frontier, but finds it deserted. Costner showed great sensitivity in not only capturing the personalities of all the major characters, but making the land itself in this case South Dakota one of the major players. They are the ones that missed the point of the story. To the credit of Kevin Costner, who was one of the producers and the director, he allowed the story to be what Michael Blake had originally created. This was a revolutionary motion picture at its time, never has a story about the American indians ever been told with such emotion and grace.
He also gets great performances out of his cast. There is the core of the problem. The interaction between Dunbar and the Sioux is powerfully effective precisely because the Sioux remain true to themselves. Eventually a bullet strikes the wolf and we hear him cry out. I see people kill a beast for the trophy. He represented the wisdom and of the Sioux People and was also their prophet.
The Sioux and Dunbar mistrust each other initially but through curiosity learn how to communicate with each other, however painfully slow. The Sioux see them playing. 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. They are part of the tribe. 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. 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. The wolf too was curious about the soldier, but kept his distance for a while. The unrepentant villainy of Wes Studi's character, in particular, recalls the moral simplicity of countless earlier Westerns. The only 'good' Indians were the cavalry scouts, but we never really met these scouts as people. We've seen him play the part of a shaman in other movies.
Kevin Costner is one of those directors who prefers the long format. Ford had an ability to present the land in all its beauty, which also just happened to have a story occurring on it. It always takes me back to an earlier time in my life no matter how many times I see it. But for all their beauty and greatness, we know they cannot win the final battles with the white civilization because they are so grossly outnumbered. I know that their natural way of life is coming to an end. Maury Chaykin, in that one scene, gives one of the most memorable and haunting performances I've seen in any film. We immediately feel at home with the Sioux.