"Dances With Wolves"

Essay by tbarbrickUniversity, Master'sA+, September 2006

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"Dances with Wolves" is the story of Lt. Dunbar, whose exploration of the Western frontier becomes mirrored in a search for his own identity. The film is shot as a narrative in continuous development, with Dunbar providing a voice-over narrative in the guise of journal entries. It begins dramatically with the badly wounded Dunbar who would rather choose death than allow the amputation of his foot. He charges the Confederate lines and so, unwittingly, becomes a hero.

Allowed to choose his posting, Dunbar opts for the frontier. His increasing loneliness drives him to seek solace with the neighboring Indian tribe. Gradually he is accepted as a member of the tribe, which in the America of the Civil War (1861-64) is seen as desertion. In order to spare the tribe any more retribution from the army, he leaves with his wife, Stands with a Fist, for the wilderness.

"Dances with Wolves" is a film concerned with cultures in collision.

To this is added the extra dimension of the inner search for Lt. Dunbar's self that is mirrored in his external search for the frontier, that mythic place of freedom, peace, escape from tyranny and harmony with the land.

Since these collisions the film tends towards a greater questioning of its subject matter than a lot of run-of-the-mill westerns. Viewers are forced to call into question the traditional stories of the West and its notions of heroic white settlers bravely conquering the land of hostile Indians. Instead they must deal with a film representation in which the settler is the enemy both of the Indian and, to judge from Dunbar, of himself and of the land.

However, this rewriting of history is not without its problems. The film takes so much refuge in the little-boy purity of heart,