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It seemed to be an American tradition to be fascinated by films that depict the western culture of the United States of America. During the 20th century, novels and movies that depicted the western culture of the country were widely spread and sold within the country.
Perhaps, The Searchers directed by John Ford and released in 1956 and Dances with the Wolves produced by Kevin Costner in 1990 were one of the best selling movies during the 20th century that gave an insight into the western culture and the interaction between the Native Americans and the settlers.
In both of these movies, the similarities and differences between these two cultures are clearly presented. In addition, the relationships between the two nations are also exhibited in an almost exact manner reflecting a true picture of the current state of affairs during the 19th and early 20th century. The main aim of this essay is, therefore, to compare and contrast these two films.
An Analysis of the Films
The film Dances with the Wolves was written by Michael Blake. It was directed and starred by Kevin Costner. The film is a western epic film that showcases the life and events of an army lieutenant named John J. Dunber (Kevin Costner) after the American Civil war of the 1860s.
After finding out from the doctor that his leg is to be amputated because of the injury that he suffered in the course of the war, Dunbar sacrifices his life and leads the army against the enemy. This heroic act comes about after he saw that it was better for him to die for his country rather than to live with one leg. Ironically, his brave acts lead his people to victory over their enemies.
As a result of his heroic deed, Dunber is asked to choose a place where he should be deployed after the war. In Costners film, Dunbar chooses Fort Sedgwick that is located in the southern part of Dakota. He says, “…actually sir, am here at my own request. Ive always wanted to see the frontier…before its gone…” He is then posted to Fort Sedgwick as per his request. However, on arrival, he finds the fort abandoned.
The area is also not secure since he is vulnerable to attacks from the nearby tribes. Despite the solitude, Dunbar decides to settle at the fort and rebuild it. For the first month, he spends all his time alone. It is during this time he makes friends with a wolf whom he names as Two Socks after the two white paws that it has on its fore limbs.
During this period, Dunbar encounters attacks from the members of the Sioux tribe who try to drive him out of his horse on several occasions. In response to this, he decides to go to their camp and make peace with them. On his way, he meets with a Native American woman who is injured. Dunbar rescues her and takes her back to her village for treatment. This woman called Stand with a Fist is an adopted daughter of the chief.
To show their gratitude, the members of the village accept Dunbar into their village. Due to the language barrier, they communicate using the signs with Stand with a Fist acting as a translator. After a while, Dunbar adopts the culture and lifestyle of the villagers. He even marries Stand with a Fist. Then he decides to return to the fort where he finds that American soldiers have taken over the place.
He is arrested since he looks like an Indian. Since he refuses to give away the whereabouts of his tribesmen, he is taken back east for conviction. During this journey, Two Socks follows the convoy in a bid to rescue Dunbar. However, he is wounded in the process.
The members of the Sioux tribe show up just in time, kill all the soldiers and rescue Dunbar. Because of the fear that he may be seen as a traitor, Dunbar abandons Stand with a Fist and the other tribesmen. On the close of the film, the American soldiers are seen searching the mountains for the Sioux but in vain.
The Searchers is also a western epic film. The film is based on a 1954 novel by Alan le May and directed by John Ford. The film begins with the return of Ethan Edwards to his brothers home in Texas after the end of the Civil War in 1868.
A few days after his return, he finds out that the cattle belong to his neighbour. Because of the rage that they have, they decide to retaliate by chasing after the cattle rustlers. However, this is only a diversion, and after they have left their homes, the Comanches come and steal things from their homesteads, kill the rest people, burn their houses and kidnap two underage girls; Debbie and Lucy.
The whole film evolves with Ethan, Clayton and Martin searching for the girls. This pursue takes years. In the process, they manage to find the remain of Lucy in an abandoned cave. They also find Debbie who appears to be married to a local Comanche chief called Scar. After a confrontation with Ethan, Debbie refuses to leave her new life that makes Ethan want to shoot her.
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However, Martin shields her with her body. In Fords film, Ethan draws his gun and points it at Debbie who says, “…go Martin, go.” Ethan keeps shouting, “Stand aside,” but Martin refuses. In the end, they let Debbie go. However, near the end of the movie, they manage to rescue Debbie against her will and kill Scar, the Comanche chief.
From the above description, it is evident that both these films are western epic movies that show life as it was soon after the civil war. In these two movies, the hostility that existed between the Native Americans and the settlers is also brought out clearly. This is shown when the members of the Sioux tribe try to rob Dunbars horse and when the Comanches steal cattle and kidnap the two girls.
Although these are hypothetical events, many cases of the same nature were reported to happen during this era. For instance, there were approximately 90 child kidnappings in Texas during the first half of the 20th century (Chan 512). Both of these movies are also about love and passion. This reveals in the love and affection that Ethan has for Debbie and feelings of Dunbar to Stand with a Fist.
However, in Dances with the Wolves, the heroism that is normally associated with the Americans and American soldiers is not shown. As a matter of fact, the American soldiers are seen as normal individuals who are prone to error. The warriors of the Sioux tribe kill them and when the reinforcements come, they are unable to locate their camp.
On one hand, Dunbar is also assimilated into their culture. This act is viewed as inferior to most people. On the other hand, The Searchers shows that the Americans are superior beings and more intelligent over the Comanches. They are able to track them easily down and use their brilliance to rescue Debbie. This is a theme that was used in most western epic films.
Both of these two films show the way of life of the American people and their neighbours just after the civil war. These movies are important since they give us an insight into the way of life of people during that era.
They show the social, political and economic status of American society, especially the community that lived next to the Native Americans. Despite their similarities and differences, these films are a good representation of the American History after the Civil War.
Chan, Rita. Directory of American Scholars: History. Boston: Sage, 1999. Print.
Costner, Kevin, dir. Dances with the Wolves. Orion Pictures, 1990. Film
Ford, John, Dir. The Searchers. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1956. Film