Film: Dances with Wolves


A film made in 1990 set in the 1860s, directed by and starring Kevin Costner, about a United States Army lieutenant who gets positioned in a fort on the expanding western frontier. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the lieutenant becomes the only person occupying the fort and befriends a wild wolf while waiting for reinforcements to come. After some brief hostilities, he also comes into good terms with a neighboring Sioux Tribe who nickname him "Dances With Wolves" for his relationship with the wolf that hangs around the fort, whom he names "Two Socks".

Since this movie is a classic it shouldn't be too hard to find a longer description that spoils the whole story. If seven Academy Awards don't tell you, it's worth a view. And one testament to the movie's excellent balance of fiction and cultural accuracy is the fact that Kevin Costner has been adopted as an honorary member in the Sioux Nation.

This film provides examples of:

  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Pawnee, who attack both the Sioux and Stands With A Fist's family.
  • The American Civil War: Shown in the beginning of the film, shown to be authentically as cruel and barbaric as it actually was.
    • And surprisingly more balanced than most modern depictions of the war. The sides are almost indistinguishable in both looks and behavior. Aside from the uniforms, you can hardly tell it.
  • Anachronism Stew: Generally averted, though the film makes some of the same mistakes modern reenactors do. Though Dunbar's clothes are all period, the way he wears them is sometimes more modern than might be expected of the time period (especially when he goes to meet Stands With a Fist at the river, and his outfit just sort of looks like Kevin Costner is visiting the stockyards).
  • Awesome McCoolname: Dances With Wolves, Stands With A Fist, Ten Bears, Wind in His Hair.
  • Badass Native: Wind In His Hair.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dances With Wolves is saved by the Sioux, but Cisco and Two Socks are dead, and he feels that he has to go off Stands With A Fist to live on their own away from the tribe. If that weren't enough, the Sioux have already gone when the military's Pawnee scouts find their winter camp, but we are then told that 13 years later, the last of the free Sioux were forced to surrender to the United States Government.
  • Blood Brothers: "I am Wind In His Hair! Can't you see that I am your friend?"
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Justified.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: Well, sort of, Kicking Bird and his wife do pause to give Dunbar a "What are you staring at?" look until he minds his own business.
  • Cool Clear Water: Averted at the last second, as John notices a lake he about to take water from is surrounded/filled with animal corpses.
  • Cool Old Guy: Ten Bears. While he usually says little, he pays John the highest honor that he can - by offering to smoke with him a while to try and keep him from leaving the tribe.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Major Fambrough, whom John Dunbar gets reassigned to, addresses those around him in medieval terms and soils himself in front of John while declaring that no one can do anything about it and then shoots himself in the head as John is leaving.
  • Dangerous Deserter: John is treated as one when the Army re-establishes itself at Soldier Fort/ Fort Sedgwick.
  • Death by Adaptation: In the movie, Stone Calf meets his end in the battle against the Pawnee. He survives in the novel, eventually becoming a part of Those Two Guys with Wind in His Hair.
  • Dirty Coward: When the platoon of soldiers who captured John is under attack by the Sioux, one of the soldiers immediately passes himself off as a corpse in order to make his escape, despite the fact that a fellow soldier is screaming for the man to come to his aid less than a few feet away.
  • Dramatic Irony: John goes back to the fort to retrieve his journal, fearing it would have been found and would have lead someone to the Sioux, and all the death and hardship that follows is because of this decision. The audience sees, but John doesn't, that his journal was found by a thieving, illiterate Jerkass who would have destroyed it himself eventually anyway... wiping his ass with it.
  • Dress Hits Floor/Toplessness from the Back: Mary McDonnell shows off a damn good combo trope.
  • Driven to Suicide: John in the beginning, after learning he's going to have his foot amputated. The Confederates manage to miss him even though he charges right past them. May appear to be Truth in Television on account of older weapons, but muskets issued at the time were rifled, not the inaccurate smoothbore weapons of previous decades. Even then, smoothbore muskets would be accurate at those ranges.
  • Dub Text: The censors removed a scene where Dances with Wolves and Wind in his Hair debate the size of a buffalo, because they thought it was referring to the former's penis. This probably also adds to the Ho Yay. Also, the Lakotah language coach was a woman, and nobody seemed to have realized that there are male and female Lakotah pronunciations and styles — meaning it's a trap! The overall effect for Lakotah-speaking audiences was a bunch of Klingon warriors talking like a ladies' Saturday afternoon tea social.
  • Either World Domination or Something about Bananas: Happens a couple of times as John attempts to learn the Sioux language.
  • Epic Movie: From the scope to the vast scenery to the soundtrack, the movie is huge.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Dunbar grows his hair longer and eventually shaves his mustache, as a sign of him becoming more like the Sioux.
  • Fan Disservice: Kicking Bird and his wife having sex in front of Dunbar.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Sioux don't get to keep their freedom and lifestyle.
  • Field Promotion: John receives one after his suicidal charge/heroism.
  • For Want of a Nail: Downplayed in the movie, but the odious Timmons becomes a fairly important character when you realize that in the beginning he's the last person alive who knows that Dunbar is stationed at Fort Sedgewick. If it weren't for his death at the hands of the Pawnee, the entire story might have had a completely different turnout.
  • Going Native: John Dunbar, who later becomes Dances With Wolves of the Lakota Sioux.
  • Hate Sink: The film doesn't really have a true villain, but you can definitely hate the squad of Union soldiers that captures John Dunbar. With the exception of Lt. Elgin, they're a bunch of sadistic Jerk Asses who kill Cisco right underneath John, and later kill Two Socks just for fun. To a lesser extent, the Pawnee, who are also mostly depicted as dog-kicking machines as they kill innocents and shoot dogs with arrows.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The Pawnee tribe should sue for slander.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The Sioux. No wonder they made Costner a member of the tribe.
  • Indian Maiden: Played with. Stands With A Fist is a white woman who was taken by the Pawnee as a small child and has lived with the Indians (first the Pawnee, then the Lakota) most of her life.
  • Injun Country: Featuring the Sioux and Pawnee tribes, deconstructs a good number of Cowboys and Indians and other Western Indian tropes while pursuing realism.
  • Insatiable Newlyweds: Implied with John/Dances With Wolves and Stands With A Fist. Kicking Bird teases him about not having seen him much since their wedding—"we call you the busy bee". John sheepishly admits that aside from being an example of this trope, that they are trying for a baby.
  • Jerkass: Corporal Spivey lies about finding John's/Dances With Wolves' journal, and then later uses it to help out at the latreen.
  • Kick the Dog: The Pawnee shoot dogs with arrows, and the soldiers that eventually occupy the fort never miss an opportunity to kick any dog they find. Their opening act is to kill Dunbar's beloved horse, leaving the body to be picked by crows. Eventually, they kill Two Socks in front of John just for the fun of it.
    • And it's completely ignored that the magical Sioux ate dogs in religious festivals.
  • Magical Native American: Averted with Kicking Bird, the tribe's medicine man, who goes off in a sulk if something happens that he doesn't see coming, like Dances With Wolves hooking up with Stands With A Fist.
  • Mighty Whitey: Debatable if not nearly as overt as most other examples.
  • The Nameless: Wes Studi's character, who is only credited as "Toughest Pawnee".
  • Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: All the Native Americans (except Otter), which is a pretty accurate representation of Real Life naming conventions.
  • Noble Savage: All of the Sioux are shown in this light; none of the Pawnee are.
    • They show a darker side as well. There's a scene (in the extended version at least) where the Sioux have just killed a group of white men who were wastefully hunting buffalo for only their skins. We're left to wonder whether the white men really deserved to die for what they had done, and Dunbar is disturbed to see severed white hands and the Sioux celebrating with abandon.
    • Some of the Pawnee are also shown to be, at the least, not quite as battle-crazed as their leader, with one of them grumbling to the other "He will not stop until we're all dead." This hints that the Pawnee are not somehow just inherently more violent and evil than the Sioux, but more that they feel beholden to follow their Blood Knight leader.
  • One Sided Battle: After John's seeming heroics (actually attempted suicide), the Union troops attack and rout the Confederates.
    • Also apparent when the Sioux defeat the Pawnee, using the guns John had.
  • Oscar Bait: And it worked, bringing home seven awards including Best Picture.
    • Subverted during production where the media and most of Hollywood thought the film would crash and burn dubbing it Kevin's gate in reference to Heavens Gate
  • Race Lift: The Comanche of the book were replaced with Lakota Sioux due to the scarcity of buffalo in New Mexico and the difficulty of finding people who could speak Comanche. The greater abundance of buffalo in South Dakota, and the larger number of people who could speak the relevant language, made the Lakota Sioux more ideal for the film's purposes.
  • Raised by Natives: Stands With A Fist.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lt. Elgin, who heads the squad that captures Dunbar, tries to keep his men in line, and ensure Dunbar is treated humanely. Unfortunately, nobody told the Sioux rescue party this, and he's the first to die in their raid.
  • Reunion Kiss: More like Reunion Epic Makeout. She literally tackles him to the ground.
  • Scenery Porn: From the rolling Great Plains to the mountains near the end, the film is gorgeous.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: John after he's told he'll need to have his leg amputated.
  • Shirtless Scene: Pretty much all the Sioux men, but Costner gets naked.
  • Shoot the Dog: A particularly heartbreaking example. The soldiers shoot, repeatedly wound, and finally kill Two Socks for fun, with John watching. He tries to strangle one of them in retaliation but to no avail.
  • Suicide By Enemy Army: John enlists the aid of the enemy army to help him deal with his life situation. They succeed, but not in the way he imagined they would.
  • Stock Sound Effects: I've heard Timmons' fart somewhere before.
  • That Man Is Dead: (In Lakota language) "My name is Dances With Wolves, and I have nothing to say to you."
  • These Hands Have Killed: The young adolescent brought on the raiding party to rescue Dunbar buries his axe in the asshole sergeant, then suffers a Heroic BSOD.
  • Those Two Guys: Technically, the boys are those three guys, but still...
  • Tonto Talk: Averted. Though Dunbar/Dances with Wolves doesn't speak a lot of English with the members of the tribe who aren't Stands with a Fist, he and Kicking Bird exchange short conversations most notably when Kicking Bird gives Dances with Wolves a sendoff after the latter decides to leave the tribe. While Kicking Bird's speech is slow and halting, his syntax is largely correct.

Alternative Title(s):

Dances With Wolves