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Night At The Movies

Updated May 14, 2022
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Night At The Movies essay

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In Kevin Costner’s motion picture Dances With Wolves, a white veteran of the Civil War, John Dunbar, ventures to the American frontier, where he encounters a tribe of Sioux Indians. At first, both parties are quite wary and almost hostile to each other, but after some time, Dunbar realizes that they have both grown to love and value each other as friends. As the viewpoint of the hero gradually shifts throughout the film, it is also paralleled by the similarly shifting perception of the audience- from one of initial, stereotypical fear to a much more positive one, of respect and sympathy. This overall effect on the viewer is accomplished through the skillful use of several techniques in the film, as well as through the use of some memorable scenes, as portrayed through Dunbar’s eyes.

When the Native Americans are initially portrayed in the film in stark contrast with Dunbar, it is almost impossible not to be biased against them. While Dunbar is noble and upright, the Indians are wild and brutal; for example, they murder Dunbar’s wagon driver Timmons in a most violent and cruel way, by hacking him with knives and tomahawks. Their actions confirm traditional views of Indians as bloodthirsty savages who kill for no better reason than the fact that Timmons was ignorantly tending an open fire on their territory. Another case in point is when Dunbar finds Stands With a Fist by the river, cutting herself with a knife. He immediately tries to help her and gently returns her to the Sioux Indians. The Sioux, however, respond in a quite different manner; instead of being grateful towards Dunbar, Wind in His Hair screams at him and fiercely snatches the woman away from him by her hair.

As the movie progresses, however, the perception of Dunbar towards the Sioux, begins to change. Several episodes reveal how Dunbar and the Indians gradually begin to grow closer to each other. Firstly, each party ventures to visit the other and, thus, tentatively begins to build a better understanding of its neighbour. Then, when they are more comfortable together, the two sides begin to extend the hand of friendship; the Indians give Dunbar a buffalo blanket, while, in return, Dunbar gives the Indians some of his food supply and their first taste of coffee. Through the symbolism of the wolf, the film teaches the audience that appearances or stereotypes should not be the sole basis for judgment. For outwardly, although the wolf appears to be very ferocious and bloodthirsty, in reality, it is actually very gentle and kind-hearted, just as the Sioux Indians.

The final stage of the shifting perception of the Indians by Dunbar and the audience occurs when Dunbar actually reaches a deeper level of friendship with the Sioux Indians, beyond mere understanding and respect of differences, to actual emotional attachment. The shift is symbolized in the scene where the wolf, who has always been friendly yet cautious around Dunbar, actually ventures to make physical contact for the first time, and eats out of his hand. Therefore in addition to mere tolerance, the two are able to experience trust in each other. Likewise, Dunbar begins to become more emotionally involved with the Sioux tribe, and begins to realize that they are not simply a tribe whose differences he should merely respect, but rather, a group of people quite similar to himself and very human at heart. He finds himself starting to feel a love and loyalty for the people as if they were his own.

Nevertheless, perhaps the intent of the film is not so much to vilify the whites in favor of the Sioux, as it is to simply point out that judgment and stereotypes should not be based upon exterior appearances alone. In fact, not all the white characters in the movie are bad; Dunbar, of course, is the obvious example of one who desires to help the Sioux, rather than annihilate them. Likewise, not all the Indians are as friendly as the Sioux Nation; for example, the Pawnees are clear antagonists in the film, both to the whites and their neighboring Indian tribe. Thus, rather than make an over-simplistic claim that all whites are bad or all Indians are good, the film strives to develop an overriding theme- that all humans possess common emotions, desires, and traits, and that these human elements alone are what should be the distinguishing factors in one’s identity, rather than race, gender, or any other external sub-category. Overall, the film causes the audience to change a traditional, stereotypical view of the Sioux Indians, but on a broader scale, it also challenges the audience to view all people from a more humanistic point of view.

Night At The Movies essay

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Night At The Movies. (2022, May 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/night-at-the-movies/

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