DANCES WITH WOLVES is Kevin Costner’s earnest, but confused tribute to life among an idealized tribe of handsome American Plains Indians before the intrusion of the ugly, evil, greedy white man. Unfortunately, good intentions do not make a good film, and this self-indulgent, boring rehash of Rousseau’s anti-biblical noble savage theory does not bode well for Costner’s career as a producer, director, philosopher, or historian. The sweeping scenery is the only respite from the tedium of this faulty film.
Costner stars as lieutenant John Dunbar, whose unsuccessful, exhibitionist suicide attempt elevates him to a Civil War hero of dubious standing. Given the choice of any post in the army, Dunbar opts for the yet unspoiled western frontier of the mid-1860s. Obviously a man of vision (at least in the eyes of Costner who plays his hero as the St. Francis of The New Age), Dunbar expresses a desire to see this part of America “before it’s gone.”
Upon his arrival at a frontier outpost in Nebraska, Dunbar finds himself alone at what amounts to more of a homesteader’s ranch than a U.S. calvary fort. After a tedious, meandering first 60 minutes, Dunbar finally becomes acquainted with and eventually befriends the Sioux tribe that inhabits the nearby prairie. The trust and friendship that develop between Dunbar and the Sioux, along with the interplay between members of Indian society, are by far the most interesting features of this agonizingly slow film.
Dunbar gets caught in the cross-fire between the evil white soldiers and the heroic Indians, as he witnesses the struggle over American Indian territory in the time of Manifest Destiny. While some may perceive DANCES WITH WOLVES as a noble expression of how the movement westward of the shamelessly rotten white man destroyed the savage innocence of the wise and gentle Indian, the film in fact betrays itself and its revisionist history.
That is, the film fails to prove its absurd premise that morality is relative to your tribal perspective. Thus, the movie wants to say that the noble Sioux were faultless, while the Pawnee were murderers and traitors, and the whites were beyond redemption. While U.S. soldiers decimated the Indians in battles prompted by hostile Indian raids, the Sioux’s action (armed with stolen U.S. Army rifles) against the Pawnee was just as brutal.
The question arises whether Costner surreptitiously intended this film as a very subtle spoof of the modern noble savage drama. At one point, Dunbar writes in his diary that the Indians are not the thieves and liars that the whites had portrayed them. However, just moments before this absurd monologue, several Sioux have tried to steal his horse and the Pawnee have viciously killed a defenseless, lone, white, mule team driver. Either Costner is self-deluded, or he is mocking the Indians, or he has no idea that all men are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God and need His saving Grace.
Entangled in this pretentious story line is Dunbar’s corny narration as well as more pregnant pauses than could fill a maternity hospital. The anachronisms in this film are also perplexing. In the Civil War scenes, everyone uses muzzle-loading rifles: while out West, while the war still rages, Dunbar finds a cache of repeating rifles in the abandoned fort. Is this a miracle? Or, was Costner too lazy to pay attention to the details of researching his movie?
What is worse is the fact that DANCES WITH WOLVES is a three-hour yawner. Since Colossians 4:5 calls us to “walk in wisdom… redeeming the time,” it would be best to pass on this film which continually steps on the audience’s toes with its two left feet.
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Arthur Krim, Chairman
Orion Pictures Corporation
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6 profanities, dozen obscenities, violence, rear female nudity, promiscuity, theft, & fornication