For some reason, I’ve never actually given much thought to civil wars or the American West. This film actually reminded me a lot of Cry Freedom, a lone soul encountering, entering and then identifying with a heavily discriminated against outgroup. In both movies, the outgroup (Coloured or Natives) are assumed to be uncivilised, savage, dirty and etc., but later, through prolonged contact, the lone soul finally identifies with them and discovers harmony and deeper meaning. Like in Wood’s meeting with Biko’s friends in their township, Dunbar too is faced with knowledge that defies his past assumptions on these outgroup individuals. I read something somewhere, the “noble savage” and the “greedy capitalist“, it’s some sort of literary device I think.
The noble savage represents the natural form of mankind, goodness, an idealised version of individuals not corrupted by all that comes with civilisation and modernization. In this film, this is the Sioux. These individuals live quite simply off the land but in doing so, wisely. Unlike the recklessness of the White hunters who laid waste to the buffalo only for their skin and tongues, leaving the bodies rotting on the land. We also see how much pain this causes the Sioux, who simply look on in complete silence before turning away.
“I had never really known who John Dunbar was. Perhaps because the name itself had no meaning. But as I heard my Sioux name being called over and over, I knew for the first time who I really was.”
I feel like we, in our hectic complicated lives are beginning to crave simplicity in our lives, which is probably why I found the movie quite beautiful in a sense. Like inhabitants of the township in Cry Freedom (calling each other brother’s wife, sister’s husband, etc.), the Sioux have their own simple way of referring to each other, calling each other names such as “Smiles A Lot”, “Stands with a Fist”, “Wind in His Hair”. It’s almost as if they perceive things differently from us, somehow on a much deeper level.
Although they are in some forms primitive, what with the way they hunt, the social hierarchy of one tribe leader etc., they are in others much more evolved than the civilised whites, who in this film are depicted as callous, oafish, greedy and overall destructive. We see this in his suicidal superior, who drinks and is the picture of gluttony, the Whites at war, heartlessly murdering each other.
From the start, we see Dunbar not really as his own person, but as a soldier, part of a collective, he’s almost lost a leg for the cause and has basically given up on life. In what only is possible through cinema, his suicide attempt turns him into a war hero and he then chooses to be deployed at the frontier. It is then, as he comes into more contact with the Sioux world and nature that he finally finds meaning, and himself, going native in the process.
This movie made me think about norms and human nature in general. Being alone with no pressure for social comparisons or White culture norms, there was no one to please. No need for socially accepted or socially desirable behaviour. Like Wood’s first stepping into the township, Dunbar was alone in the Sioux’s world and he sought to understand it as they did him. It makes me wonder if that’s all we really need to overcome all the discrimination, is a little curiosity and a shift in perspective. To become the minority and to view it with an open mind. To be isolated from our own culture for a moment, free from preexisting judgements.
I feel like the film also tried to embody the contact hypothesis in a way, reducing initial prejudice through interpersonal contact. One of the main components of this is equal status and common goals. While their knowledge and backgrounds are completely different, at the frontier, they were simply two parties that wanted to learn from the other, each with their own knowledge to offer.
From another point of view, I thought the way the bad natives (I forget the name, sorry!) were portrayed was rather interesting. We always see their faces covered in paint and their hairstyles are extremely different from us.The latter was probably a way to make sure we do not identify with these individuals so that we clearly know who the bad guys are or something. The earlier though, could actually be a way of telling us how they are, and also achieves the same effect as the hair. I read somewhere that in doing so (the body painting i mean), it is a form of deindividuation. By doing so, they kind of pick up the identity of the group and also their morality drops a little because they don’t recognise themselves so much, they’re part of the group (there’s a study that found little kids are less likely to steal candy if they see their own clean relfection). In a way, the face paint symbolised that they were quite “gone” in a sense, succumbing to primal urges and aggression. Although we also see the Souix doing this in preparation for battle, that is the only time we see it.
On a completely different note, the part where Two Socks died really got to me. More so than when any of the men died. In a demented kind of way, I find that it’s usually like this. Somehow, animal deaths just seem to evoke more feelings than do human ones… which doesn’t sound very right. Perhaps this is because animals are often seen as innocent creatures while humans, both of screen and on screen, are capable of very heinous acts.. I don’t know.
parts that made me really sad, when the wolve died. seriously that part jsut hurt me. for some reasn, it really gets me when animals die in movies. when humans die, its harder to understand for some reason. maybe cause of the things we’ve seen humans do… wow. overall a good movie though it was incredibly long.
One thing I loved about this movie is the way the title just pops up in the movie. It’s so natural that you almost don’t think twice about it, it was just so subtle. There was almost no dialogue in that scene but it was at that moment where we really saw him shed his old skin and get into the new one. It was like a turning point, the part where it is acknowledged that he has become part of the tribe, so much so that he deserves his own Sioux name. The start of soldier John Dunbar’s (or Dumb Bear) discovery of himself.
One thing I’d like to point out is how the actress playing Stands With A Fist portrays the almost-attrition of her first language. It was very believable. The way she was speaking, the way she slurred on certain words, pronunciation, it was extremely good. Language attrition really does happen though, usually with ethnic minorities slowly forgetting their native tongue when they learn more widely used languages like English. So,I found it very interesting that in this movie, it was sort of the other way around. She had identified with the minority group after the death of her parents and slowly lost touch with her first self.
I’ve noticed that most of the time, those in the minority are usually more accepting of those who were often the majority than vice versa. This might be interesting to watch :).
ps: the humour in this film was pretty good.
let’s look at the beautiful scenery for a bit, appreciate stuff ya know.
apparently i forgot to hit the publish button for this post. I feel very sad right now.