Dances with Wolves

Benn Yorke-Westcott
Prof. T Norris
REL 3308 UO4
Dances With Wolves
Dances with Wolves is the story of a Union Army Lieutenant who travels to the American frontier to find an army post and his dealings with the native Lakota Indians. Throughout the duration of the film certain religious themes are present and essential towards the development of the storyline. In addition to this the rituals and spiritual traditions of the Lakota Indians were especially interesting to someone with little or no knowledge on the subject. Themes such as racial tension, friendship and self-discovery were also explored throughout. As an individual who is deeply interested in spirituality and finding deeper meaning and understanding, this film had me captivated and made me think a great deal.
From the first scene, that depicts the main character John J. Dunbar, played by Kevin Costner leaving a battlefield between Union soldiers and a Confederate company, it was clear to me that this character was intended to appear blessed. As he rode between heavy gun fire from the opposing side he raised his hands to the air as if reaching out to some God and says, ???Forgive me Father???. During this sequence angelic music is played and not one bullet touches Dunbar. This immediately gave me the impression that he was intended to be protected by some divine entity and that a greater purpose was to be fulfilled.
This idea that Dunbar is blessed with a purpose was further reinforced during the scene when he goes into the abandoned Fort Sedgwick and a white dove flies out the window. It occurred to me that this was a reference to the Holy Spirit and Christianity and that as a white man this was probably his religion. This moved into thoughts that a Christian God was watching over the character Dunbar. This initial scene at the fort was also one of the most profound to me.
As Dunbar arrived at Sedgwick and realised that it had been abandoned, he immediately set about making improvements to the fort so that his living conditions would be better. During this time he begins to record his thoughts in a red journal that later becomes one of his most prized possessions. This scene affected me greatly as the character Dunbar began to revel in his solitude and become more in touch with his thoughts and his surroundings. It was appealing to me because possibly sometime in my future I may look to seek solitude from the bustle of civilisation and discover more about myself.
After this period of solitude, the main character comes into contact with a tribe of Sioux Indians and the film progresses into what I like to think of as the rebirth of John. J Dunbar. As Dunbar interacts with the Indians we witness some of their rituals and practices such as dancing around the fire in order for buffalo to come to the frontier as well as the smoking of the peace pipe. It also becomes clear to me that the Indians did not worship one sole God and that by contrast their style of worship was more a mix of pantheism and being animistic. They worshipped the land and gave thanks to it for what they were able to reap.
After mentioning the buffalo and the Indians affinity towards them, it is important to mention that at this time they were experiencing what can be called a drought and no buffalo were to be found. However as Dunbar arrives a great abundance of the creatures appear for the Sioux to hunt. This further strengthens my theory that Dunbar was blessed and also makes me think that they came because of him. It is also important to note that Dunbar was the only white man in the entire film that appeared to appreciate the buffalo and that they were a part of nature. This is seen by the slaughtering of the buffalo by white hunters for the use of their tongues and the way that the carcasses were left where they were skinned and rotting.
This is the first instance where we see that there was obvious tension between the whites and the Native Indians. After the discovery of the buffalo, the Sioux track and murder the hunters for revenge, much to the distaste of Dunbar who was now becoming one of the tribe. This theme comes to its peak at the end of the film when the Sioux battle the Union Army in order to rescue the captured Dunbar. However throughout the film it is an underlying concern for Dunbar and Kicking Bird, the tribes medicine man.
Touching on the topic of Kicking Bird, he is intended to be the friend character of Dunbar throughout the film. As the storyline progresses we see how their friendship evolves into a great respect for each other. They share their cultures with each other and Kicking Bird is greatly interested in the spiritual development of Dunbar. As Dunbar becomes more familiar to the Sioux he is even given the name Dances with Wolves and marries Kicking Bird??™s daughter Stands with Fist.
By the time the film is about to conclude, we have witnessed how John Dunbar evolved into Dances with Wolves and renounced his affiliation to the Union Army and the whites. He becomes a greatly respected member of the Sioux tribe and is forced to leave due to being hunted by the Union Army as a traitor. In the final scene he is seen riding into the forest with his wife and the wolf that had been the cause for his name is seen howling at the moon. At this point a completely different man is seen from the one that initially rode into the abandoned Sedgwick. This man is in touch with nature and his spirituality.

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